top of page

TORPEDOES! – can you escape these career killers?

So many factors can support or undermine your career. For example, women can face gender discrimination, bias, lack of work-life balance, and limited education and training opportunities. Men can face difficulties gaining access to family-friendly practices.

One of the most pernicious career torpedoes is the myth that women are poor negotiators. This is a sexist view, often perpetrated by men and held by some women. This view can affect women’s career prospects by damaging their brand and making it harder to obtain pay rewards. The myth that women are poor negotiators implies that

  • Men negotiate on most things, but women don’t.

  • Women don’t negotiate enough around pay.

  • A woman who negotiates well always creates a negative social backlash.

Both sexes can have difficulty avoiding negotiation myths and the torpedoes they represent. For instance, there’s little evidence that men always negotiate, but women seldom do. Nor is there substantial evidence that men are great negotiators. Many need help to improve.


For many women, the challenge is not failing to negotiate. When they do, they're sometimes less committed to dealing with pay and work conditions than men. Many feel more comfortable negotiating around work and family.

Yet women who reach the top of their organisations show they can be highly effective negotiators, winning important deals and being powerful pay advocates for themselves and others.

For example, witness the successes of Marissa Mayer, former CEO of Yahoo, Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo, Ursula Burns, former CEO of Xerox, Safra Catz, the CEO of Oracle and Ginni Rometty, former CEO of IBM.

Another misconception is that women should always negotiate to close the gender wage gap. But constantly pushing for more pay can be a wrong strategy. It may be better to focus on expanding your work role rather than bidding for more payment in an existing one.


“Many professional women approach career negotiations with trepidation...their concern is that by pressing for career advancement, they will tend to alienate their co-workers.” Kathryn Valentine, the founder of a consulting firm, focused on achieving gender parity by empowering women to ask for what they need to thrive in their careers.

To counter this anxiety, what should you do? Resist excessive modesty in your ambitions. A live example is Siti, a Malaysian finance expert working for a US company based in the UK.

Siti felt undervalued by her present employer and started looking for advancement elsewhere. She calculated how much she should be paid based on market rates and set that as her negotiating goal. In a series of exploratory discussions with interested potential employers, Siti stuck to her remuneration target.

Several offers came Siti’s way. But all were below her target. At least one expressed alarm at what she was demanding. Yet Siti held out for months. Eventually, a new employer met her terms, and she’s thriving, setting up new teams in Japan and elsewhere. She buzzes around London in a bright mini which does wonders for her branding!

What strategies can reduce the risk of a backlash from a strong negotiation stance? Best practice suggests:

Step 1: Persuade: you may need to become more convincing.

Step 2: Relate: commit time and effort to relationship building. Siti used all her contacts, and the employer who offered her target salary stemmed from a long-standing professional connection.

Step 3: Need: explain clearly why your request meets your needs—for example, "I deserve a promotion” or "I want to develop my ability to see the big picture."

Step 4: Share: justify how your request will serve the organisation’s needs—for example, "I’m on track to exceed my sales target by 10% and being a Vice President will help me win more accounts.”

Nearly everywhere, organisations are searching for talent. This involves attracting employees who can make a difference. It also includes new ways to retain existing talent, for example, by giving people greater autonomy or altering working conditions. This might require more family-friendly policies and the chance to work from home part of the time.

While escaping career torpedoes can be partly down to luck, much also depends on your conscious decision to identify which ones are heading your way. Taking active steps to avoid or negate them is essential to seeking success at work.

Sources and further reading:

Valentine et al., 3 Negotiation myths still harming women’s careers, HBR, Oct 2022,


For more ways to succeed at work, listen to my next
Podcast! Every Monday.


Take your next steps towards success at work with these
five interactive, mobile learning courses.

bottom of page