04/17/18 | Book Review, Career, Gender

The Myth of the Nice Girl, and Strategic Job Negotiation Tactics [Book Review & Excerpt]

Last night, I sent around this article to my team, which talks about society embracing masculine qualities—in men or women—and rejecting feminine qualities. The rejection was focused largely on men who exhibit “femininity,” and the double standard we place on women being encouraged to take up “masculine” qualities and men being marginalized if they take up “feminine” qualities, whether it’s wearing a pink shirt or crying.

A timely article for today’s release of Fran Hauser’s new book, The Myth of the Nice Girl: Achieving a Career You Love Without Becoming a Person You Hate.

“Nice” is one of those words. In the workplace, it’s not meant to be flattering. It’s one of those things that keeps people in their jobs (sometimes), but doesn’t advance them. It implicitly suggests weakness, or at least lack of strength. By design, it doesn’t necessarily suggest intelligence or leadership. It’s not something you want to hear in your reviews.

It’s a ‘blah’ word.

But Hauser takes that word and several other stereotypes and flips them on their heads. “Nice” isn’t just not negative, it’s a strength, according to her.

The book is informally written, with enough structure to have the reader walk away with several high-level lines of thought as well as a mountain of tactics to keep up the nice-girl act.

It’s also written for people—man or woman —who manage and lead in the workplace, and challenges them to rethink what it means to be feminine.

Hauser frames the book by juxtaposing traditionally opposing traits and discusses how they can actually work together. For instance, she spends a chapter on setting boundaries and being caring. Or speaking assertively and nicely. The excerpt below outlines negotiating strategically and empathetically.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who’s felt the tug between career advancement and their own innate personalities, or to those who may have felt pressure to suppress certain parts of their personality. And again, if you’re a manager who wants to reconsider traits like “nice”, “collaborative” and “kind”, it’s also for you.

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The following excerpt is from The Myth of the Nice Girl: Achieving a Career You Love Without Becoming a Person You Hate

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Nice and Strategic Job Negotiation Tactics

How to negotiate successfully without being penalized for being “pushy” is one of the questions I’m asked the most by women I mentor. Most of the advice offered to women on this topic is to try to be tough and negotiate “like a man.” But my advice is a little different. I think it’s important for us to be aware of the biases we are facing and instead of plowing ahead and negotiating aggressively or failing to negotiate altogether, it’s essential to use our relational skills to negotiate strategically in a way that is good for the people on both sides of the table. Here’s how:

Focus on Communal Benefits

Studies have shown that women who negotiate communally, meaning with an eye toward what is best for the organization instead of just what is best for you, have a better chance of success.  This means that in addition to discussing why you deserve the promotion and salary increase, you should talk about how your talents and experiences will add value to the company. For example, “The talents and network that I bring to the table are critical for the company to meet its biggest goals.”

Is this a way of playing to a stereotype because women are typically expected to think of others instead of themselves? I don’t think so. You’re still speaking up for your achievements and asking for what you’re worth, but just doing it in a way that gives you the best chance of success. There’s nothing submissive about that.

Know Your Value

If you feel uncomfortable negotiating on your own behalf, knowing exactly what you’re worth according to the market can help you feel more confident. This can be difficult in companies that are not transparent about salaries and other benefits. But there are other ways to find out what you’re worth. From early in my career, it’s been my impression that men talk to each other about money much more than women. But the more we’re willing to have open conversations about our worth, the more we can work to close the wage gap.

It took me a long time to get to know my own value as an advisor. For a while, I asked for nothing in return for my time and advice. I’d go to meeting after meeting sharing my advice for free. Finally, a good friend who also does some advising said to me, “Fran, why are you doing all this work for free? I usually do one introductory meeting at no charge. After that, if people want my advice, they have to pay me as a consultant or give me equity as an advisor.”

This made me rethink how I responded to the endless requests for my advice. I decided that I’d do a 30-minute call or introductory meeting with a founder before requiring compensation as an official advisor. But I never would have known to ask for what I’m worth if my friend hadn’t been transparent with me on how she handled her own consulting fee. Now I make sure to stay on top of my current value and how it may change over time. When I’m having casual networking meetings with other advisors, I ask them, “What kind of equity have you been getting in the companies you advise?”

If you’re not sure what you’re worth, make an effort to find out. Services like Glassdoor have a lot of valuable salary information that you can look at to get a sense of what your peers are making. The recruiters you connect with can also tell you what type of compensation they’re seeing based on your experience and career level.

Know All the Levers

I find that in negotiations we often narrowly define “compensation.” When exploring a new job and thinking about the negotiation process, try to think more broadly. There’s more to a compensation package than just a salary and benefits (though of course those are important). There are also often overlooked “perks” you can push for if the company is not willing to go higher on your salary.

Here are just a few:

  • Flexible schedule (part time or working remotely)
  • Educational support (tuition reimbursement for continuing education or graduate courses)
  • Bonuses
  • Stock options
  • Extra vacation time
  • Gym membership
  • Summer Fridays

Remember, too, that your priorities will shift over time. When I was in my 20s, salary was hugely important to me so my husband and I could start saving. By the time I was in my 40s, flexibility became more important because of my children. Your priorities may be different than mine.

A friend of mine had a side hustle she was passionate about, and it was important to her that she was able to continue working on it. She was willing to forego a little on her full-time salary to have permission and flexibility to continue working on her side project. These are all pieces of the puzzle, and the importance of each will likely change over the course of your career. Decide which is most valuable for you before you begin a negotiation.

Time It Right

Your empathy is a great asset when determining the right moment to ask for what you deserve. When will your boss feel the most open and accepting of the discussion? I once had a boss who was like two different people in the morning and then later in the afternoon. Whenever I wanted something, I made sure to get time on his calendar early in the day to have the best chance of success. To me, this is the epitome of being empathetic and strategic.

No matter who your boss is, it’s always a good time to ask if you’ve recently had a big, high profile win at work. People in the company will know about your accomplishment, and your boss is not going to want to lose you. This is a time when you shouldn’t wait for an annual review to ask for the raise of promotion you deserve. Instead, seize the moment when you have a lot of momentum and power.

Get the Data

Negotiations should always be more objective than subjective. By that I mean, never let negotiations be about personal issues or what you “feel” you deserve. Along those lines, try to avoid talking about personal circumstances like expenses that you have to pay. Promotions and raises should be about performance and hard data, not feelings and extenuating circumstances. Those concerns are pretty much irrelevant to the company and can be easily swatted away.

Especially when you’re feeling insecure in a negotiation, it’s always a good idea to fall back on solid evidence you’ve collected to help you make your case. This can be data about your accomplishments or about the company’s current financial picture. For example, prepare concrete evidence of the value you’ve created for your organization, whether you are a teacher who’s launched a successful project at your school or an accountant who has implemented a program that saved the company a lot of money. Sometimes the value you’ve added is not tied to a specific product or project. It may be that you’ve created a culture for your team that has resulted in improved morale and retention, or you took the initiative and launched a new business resource group at the company.

Financial data is just as important for you to have in mind when facing a negotiation. You have to have numbers at your fingertips to justify your requirements, including everything you may be leaving behind. For example, I recently mentored two different women who were both moving on from their jobs before the end of the year and would therefore be leaving their year-end bonuses on the table. Neither of them had thought to ask for a signing bonus with their new companies to compensate for that lost money. I explained that, from their new employers’ perspectives, it would be difficult to argue with the hard data about the money they were leaving behind. And sure enough, both women were able to negotiate successfully for significant signing bonuses.

It’s also hard to argue with market price. When I was at Time, Inc. a young woman on my team came to me and said, “Look, I know that people who are doing the same job as me at other media companies are making this much money. This is the range.” She was right. And by presenting it to me in that way, she gave me no other option than to find a way to get her the raise she deserved—or risk losing her.

I’ve also relied on market data when negotiating in my own career. When I first took the job at Time, Inc. the title they offered me was General Manager of People Digital. But I knew that the person who had the same position at Sports Illustrated had a President title. I went back to my future boss and asked for a title that matched, but he said, “Sports Illustrated’s digital brand is already a proven success. We’re just getting People off the ground. How about we keep your title as GM and revisit in in a year when we see how we’re doing?” I thought this was fair. After a year, we had proven success with the digital brand, and my boss was then comfortable giving me the President title.

When you’re negotiating a salary, a promotion, or even a title, you might not get what you want right away. But if you get the data and ask, it’s much more likely for you to end up on a path towards getting it.


Here’s an intriguing fact. Research tells us that women actually outperform men when negotiating on behalf of someone else. Do women feel more comfortable when the negotiation is not about them because they don’t risk coming across as greedy, or because the person they’re negotiating with doesn’t penalize them because of these double standards? I would venture to say it’s probably a little bit of both. This goes back to communal negotiations. Negotiating on behalf of someone else makes us seem like we care more about others than ourselves, a trait that’s traditionally valued in women and reinforced by society.

To me, this is actually empowering. It shows that we do have the raw talent to do a good job of negotiating. But something happens when we’re negotiating on behalf of ourselves—our confidence goes out the door. If this happens to you, the next time you’re preparing to negotiate that salary increase or promotion, think about how you would approach the conversation if you were representing your best friend or your sister instead of yourself. Then take that confidence and conviction and apply it to you!


Kate Brodock

Kate Brodock

Kate is the CEO of SWITCH and General Partner of the W Fund. She combines her operational experience in startups and her deep expertise on and central commitment to gender and representation in the startup ecosystem to position her as a leader on the creation and development of a more equitable future for our innovation economy.

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