A Better Book for “Lean In” Advice

By Sue Thompson,


Earlier this summer, I wrote that my major criticism with the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg is that it doesn't contain enough practical and realistic advice for regular folks.

To stay on the theme of girl power, I want to highlight a book that I'd suggest to both women and men for actionable "lean in" advice: Women Don't Ask by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever .  I advocate reading the book in addition to (here comes the shameless plug) checking out my three suggestions for realistic ways to lean in .

The main message in Women Don't Ask : Don't be afraid to request what you "want, need and deserve at home and at work."

In fact, the authors point out that not asking can have real financial consequences.  For example, not asking for a higher salary when first starting out in the working world - something many women tend to be guilty of. Ms. Babcock and Ms. Laschever write that in their study of students graduating with a master's degree, only 7% of the women negotiated their starting salary, while 57% of the men did.  This was despite the fact that the career services department of the university strongly advised students to negotiate their job offers.

Unsurprisingly, the men started out with an average salary that was nearly $5,000 higher than that of the women. While $5,000 might not seem like a big difference, Ms. Babcock and Ms. Laschever did the math to show the financial impact of this single negotiation over the course of a career.

Assuming the men started at an annual salary of $30,000 and the women at $25,000 and they all get identical 3% annual pay increases, by the time the students are 60, the men are making $15,000 more per year. And if you assume that the men bank the difference every year in an account earning 3%, by age 60, the men would have $568,000.  That can translate to a more comfortable retirement.

It's clear that not asking can be bad for a bank account, so how can people be better at asking for what they want? While Ms. Babcock and Ms. Laschever focus their tips on women, I think many of their tips can be useful to both sexes, including these:

  • Assume everything is negotiable. According to Ms. Babcock and Ms. Laschever, one of the reasons why women don't negotiate more is that they tend to perceive their circumstances as more fixed and absolute than they really are.  One of my favorite quotes is from Ever After , an otherwise OK movie, when Cinderella's wicked stepmother says: "Darling, nothing is final until you're dead and even then, I'm sure God negotiates."  That is the attitude that the authors suggest we have when they point out that it's important to make a mental shift and "see the world as a 'negotiable' place."  And to lessen some of the anxiety associated with negotiating, they suggest trying to move the the negotiation from " contest to cooperation " - in other words, let the conversation unfold as a collaborative discussion rather than an adversarial competition.
  • Ask for benefits beyond raises. In addition to raises, the authors suggest asking for other benefits like more vacation time, a flexible work schedule or new opportunities like being able to work on a certain project.  These non-financial factors can go a long way to helping you enjoy work more and maybe even find a better work/life balance.
  • Set high negotiation goals. According to Ms. Babcock and Ms. Laschever, even when women do negotiate, they often don't ask for enough, either because the goals they set for themselves are not high enough or their information network is not robust enough to ensure they know the limits of what's possible. But according to the authors, "there's a direct correlation between goals and outcomes."  In other words, the more you ask for, the more you get.

This book covers a number of the same issues as Lean In, but in my opinion it offers better practical advice for how to change our own outcomes and society at large. I highly recommended it (although it's nowhere near as funny as Bossypants ), especially to women, to advisors of women and to those afraid of negotiation.  In fact, it serves as the basis for a program we have here at BlackRock called "The Art of the Ask" designed to help women understand the importance of negotiation and how they can negotiate more frequently with more positive outcomes.

Source: "Women Don't Ask" by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, womentdontask.com

Sue Thompson, CIMA, Managing Director, is Head of the Registered Investment Advisor Group, overseeing the firm's iShares and 529 sales efforts with registered investment advisors, family offices and asset managers. Sue is a regular contributor to The Blog.  You can find more of her posts here .

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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