On Friday 24th November 2017, the Melbourne Lean in Chapter was proud to host our end of year networking event and panel discussion on “Negotiating and Handling Difficult Situations in Your Profession”.

The event was sponsored by WGEA (Workplace Gender Equality) certified Talent International. Talent is an innovative technology and digital recruitment specialist, supplying thousands of contract and permanent technology professionals across the globe.

The panel was comprised of:

–      Donna Ross (Principal and founder of Donna Ross Dispute Resolution)

–      Peter Singer (Negotiation Adviser, Mediator and Facilitator)

–      Emma Starkey (Senior Associate, Employment Law at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers)

The panel discussion was chaired by Catherine O’Keefe, an associate from Corrs Chambers Westgarth who specialises in international arbitration in commercial disputes.

The panellists discussed various issues faced by women in modern workplaces. These included gender pay-gap and sexual harassment. The panel provided practical and useful advice on how to negotiate effectively.

Below is a summary of the discussion:  

How does gender play a role in negotiation?

–      Women negotiate as hard as men but they often get some backlash. Unconscious bias can play role in how women are perceived during negotiation. As per an American ‘Women in the Workplace 2017 study by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company: “Women of all races and ethnicities negotiate for raises and promotions at rates comparable to their male counterparts. However, it’s interesting to note that men may not have to negotiate as often as women do to get what they want. Men are more likely to say they have not asked for a raise because they are already well compensated or a promotion because they are already in the right role.”

–      Women can often be more in tune with their needs than men. Men can negotiate keeping money or commercial objectives in mind. However, women often think more about impact on their relationships due to negotiation.

Do’s and Don’ts in negotiation:

–      Be aware of the assumptions in play between you and the other party. Challenge assumptions by asking questions which will help you find a creative solution.

–      Ask questions in order to find the other party’s needs and interests

–      Before approaching a negotiation, practice scenarios and your arguments with someone to get an objective perspective.

–      When someone is aggressive then it is also essential to take a step back. William Ury calls this “don’t react, go to the balcony.” Going to the balcony gives you a bit of fresh air and, potentially, a fresh perspective. Sometimes you can take the time you need to cool down and come back to a tense situation calmer and more creative.

–      Apply the 24-hour rule – don’t respond to something on a whim. Think about the options for at least 24 hours and then respond.

–      Prepare 3 key persuasive points. Proactively think about why the other party will say no and prepare answers in advance.

Do women have to negotiate differently than men?

–      Not necessarily. The outcome of the negotiation depends on the person, their confidence levels and the kind of preparation they do. It is important to be as objective as possible whilst making an argument. For example, whilst asking for annual leave, mention that you have considered how your annual leave would impact project timelines and the general workload in that month (business needs).

–      Write 7 ways of asking Why and 7 ways of exploring an issue.

–      Reframe questions and repeat what the other side has said. This will help move conversation forward, build rapport and gain mutual respect

How do you identify a ‘pay-gap’ in your organisation?

–      Identifying pay-gap can be difficult and employment contract might restrict salary discussions. Recruiters and unions can help you obtain information on industry standard salary range.

–      Introducing salary disclosure laws or aligning salary levels with the job title can help reduce the gender pay gap. E.g. Pay gap in the Australian Public Service is lower as they have pay levels (APS Level 1-6 and Exec Levels)

Situation based question: I negotiate all the time for my company, but I feel really uncomfortable about negotiating this raise for myself. Any advice?

–      Gender pay gap is a systemic issue. Until 1969, legislation allowed employers to pay women a minimum rate of pay that was 25% less than male employees doing the same or similar work.

–      For the pay gap negotiation, prepare bullet points or summary of your achievements and do the research of salary range in your industry. Negotiate your salary on merit and performance metrics.

–       Separate people from the problem and have objective criteria for your salary negotiation conversation. Then “Build a golden bridge” (Ury)

–      Allow your employer/people leader to be part of the discussion and ask probing questions. Don’t back your employer/people leader into a corner to say either Yes or No

–      Read your employment contract – are you allowed to discuss your and your colleague’s salary ?

How do you handle sexual harassment and bullying in your profession?

–      Learn the legal definition of sexual harassment. The law focuses on the impacts on the individual (how behaviour makes him/her feel).

–      Things one can do if they are being harassed:

  • Clearly ask perpetrator to stop
  •  Document the incidents
  • Talk to a friend about it so there is a record of you voicing your concerns
  • Talk to HR (but remember they work for your employer so their loyalty lies to them)
  • Talk to the union
  • You can take legal action if you are dismissed after making a complaint
  • You can seek legal advice before talking to HR/ Employer about such issues and plan what steps you will take
  • Assess your own situation and impacts carefully before choosing your option.
  • Check the free resources such as Fair Work Commission and Fair Work Ombudsmen.

How to reduce risk of getting discriminated when you return from maternity/ parental leave?

–      Negotiate for a pay rise before you request maternity (very hard for women to do it once they return)

–      Signal to employer that you have the full intention of coming back

–      Arrange ‘keep in touch days’ with your employer (can even negotiate paid days) where you can go in for one day a week to catch-up on emails and touch base with colleagues.


Gender pay gap, bullying and sexual harassment are complex issues. There is a need for change at a societal level to create a culture where men and women are treated equally at work and at home. To facilitate this change, address systemic issues and minimise unconscious bias, it is important to have an open dialogue within organisations.

Bullying and sexual harassments occur mainly due to a power imbalance. Gender pay gap can contribute to power imbalance both at work and at home. Women alone cannot fix these issues. More men, employers and politicians need to join this conversation.

Join Melbourne Lean In Circle which aims to empower women to achieve their ambitions and get involved in an ongoing dialogue on various issues that affect women and our society.

Materials referred in this article:

–      http://www.williamury.com/books/

–      ‘Getting to gender equality starts with realizing how far we have to go’

Related Post

November 24, 2020

Towards Global Citizenship: Cultivating Cultural Intelligence

The sounds of waves washing over a beach was

August 30, 2020

50 Ways To Fight Bias In The Workplace – Event Highlights

“Always so professional, I’m impressed and inspired that Lean