My previous job as the Chief of Staff at Yahoo had been stressful. It was 2012, the company was in turmoil and under a lot of pressure. We had fought off a hostile takeover and activist investors, seen significant turnover in senior leadership, and the company was barely growing. When I finally left Yahoo I really needed to detox. I was approached by a friend who needed some help with her company, so I decided to consult for a while. Consulting meant I was able to work from home, and had the flexibility I needed. At that point, I was extremely committed to spending time with my family. My kids were young and my mother was terminally ill. Moments like that will make you reevaluate your decision making.
After about a year of consulting, GoDaddy approached me. They wanted someone with experience in investor relations as the company prepared to go public. I really loved the business - both what the company does for customers and it’s financial position - and I really wanted to work with the people at GoDaddy. I was certain they were going to pay me fairly as I had had conversations with them prior to the negotiations about how they pay their workforce, specifically women.
I was very open with them about my personal situation during conversations throughout the hiring process. When I finally sat down with the CFO to discuss the job offer, I knew they’d worked hard to be fair and I’d also been conditioned to think of an offer as a starting place - from which I should negotiate up. Much of the compensation was in equity, as opposed to cash, but as the company was about to go public that made sense. The base compensation was about average for the role and I knew I could nudge it up. After a lot of thought, I instead said,
"My Mom is ill and my kids are young. I need flexibility to be in my kids’ classrooms and to be with my Mom when she needs me. I’m not going to ask you for more money, but I do want flexibility with my time. That doesn’t mean I'm not going to do a full-time job - I might work at 10 pm and I will be reachable wherever I am - but I will always be with my family for the important events."
They said no problem! They wanted to be the type of company that allows women to work and have family values. And GoDaddy not only allowed me to work flexible hours, but they helped enforce it for me. They recognized my family was my priority which meant a lot to me. The first time I emailed the CEO on a weekend he responded, but he told me not to email him on a weekend again. I was blown away that he seemed as committed to my family time as I was!
About a year after GoDaddy went public, we were preparing to report quarterly financial results which was my big show every quarter. The day before we reported, while I was in the thick of prep with our CEO and CFO, I learned my mom’s doctor had discontinued her treatment and moved her to hospice care. I was naturally very upset and my colleagues mentioned the situation to the CEO. This was one of the most critical leadership moments for me with the company. My CEO said that If I need to go immediately he would of course understand, BUT if I could stay for another 24 hours, he would personally arrange to fly me to my mother the following day. I stayed and he was good to his word and my colleagues put me on the plane with a care package of snacks, flowers, and other things for me and my mom. The compassion of my colleagues and our leadership team meant I could be there for GoDaddy and also be there for my mother.
I was working for the right company at the right time. I can’t claim that will happen for everyone, but there are ways that you can ensure you get the best result from your negotiation, whatever you ask for.
Step 1: You have to practice
You can’t get good at anything without practice. Whether it’s multiplication, yoga, or negotiation - the best way to learn a skill is practicing. Whenever my kids get down on themselves because they’re not good at something, I always come back to this mantra: You cannot expect to be good at anything without practice. The conversation may be hard the first time and you have to practice.
I do fundamentally believe that men are more likely to ask for positions and promotions they are less qualified for and to ask for pay that is higher than their skill level entitles them to. They understand it’s a negotiation and are not nearly so sheepish or worried about how they are perceived. Women have to role-play and work out how to have this conversation effectively.
Step 2: Research the company's pay culture and lay some foundations before you ask
Had I not already known that GoDaddy was a company that was very committed to improving its practices and its image, with a particular focus on getting more women in leadership roles, I would not have felt comfortable asking for flexibility. I knew I was taking a risk. It was very possible they would ask me to be in the office full time. But, I had explored the topic over a series of conversations during the interview process so I was in a good place to ask.
Step 3: Assess your situation and establish what’s most important to you
I had also been diagnosed with breast cancer many years prior to my mom’s illness. That and other life moments, like the births of my children, helped me see the importance of family and asking for what I needed.
Step 4: Be confident in your abilities
I had real confidence in my ability to do that job. I would not have had that conversation without that confidence. I knew I was able to get GoDaddy to the place they needed to be.
And finally…If you are avoiding negotiating, ask yourself why
If you can’t say what you want out loud, maybe you aren’t ready for the role. Maybe you need to practice. Maybe you’re not sure you trust the people you’ll be working with to give you the answer you want. If you don’t speak up, you may continue to work in an environment where you aren’t paid fairly. Rocking the boat might mean you lose out and you may very well need that income. But being willing to have the conversation has the potential both to get you what you need and begin to change the larger conversation for all of us.