Women’s Actuarial Professionals Network (WAPN) dives into Confidence and Negotiation Skills for Women in the Workplace

PwC hosted its second Women’s Actuarial Professionals Network event in its New York City office on March 22, 2017. While the event brought together women in the actuarial and insurance fields, event organizer and CAS Fellow Kuda Chibanda made it clear that the topics of discussion could be applicable to women in any profession. Despite the rigorous exams and credentialing that all actuaries, men and women alike, must go through, the issues actuarial women, in particular, face are similar to those in other lines of work. “We’re not immune” to many of those issues, despite our technical skills and training, explained Kuda.

The event kicked off with opening remarks from Mary Helen Taylor, partner at PwC. Mary Helen gave a brief overview of her history at PwC and how she got into the insurance industry. She noted that an actuarial career has been rated one of the top jobs in the market these days, yet women are underrepresented in actuarial and STEM careers in general. This is all the more reason that we must share and expose more and more young women to the “happiest profession,” and continue the progress we’ve made over the years.

Next on the schedule was Jennifer Allyn, Diversity Strategy Leader at PwC. Jennifer led an engaging session on Gender Dynamics in Negotiation, which included small group discussions of participants’ personal experiences and challenges around negotiation. Interestingly, women make up almost half of the labor force, but only 6% of CEOs, and differences in negotiation skills and styles may contribute to that. Men initiate negotiations four times as much as women do, and negotiations are often one of the first steps to achieving success in business (and even at home). Jennifer shared four strategies to help women build successful negotiating skills.

  1. Understand the parameters: Women negotiate most successfully when we know exactly what is considered “negotiable” and what is a reasonable request. For example, that could mean having a good understanding of the salaries or benefits other people are receiving in similar jobs with similar experience. Women should leverage their networks to collect as many benchmarks as possible to fuel their negotiation.
  2. Have a clear account of why you are negotiating: Women tend to undervalue themselves, leading to unbalanced negotiations. Develop a clear reason why negotiating is legitimate in the situation. The optimal outcome of the negotiation is for both parties to “win” in some way. If you can clearly define how your request results in a win for your opponent, the negotiation is much more likely to be a success.
  3. Consider what you would say if you were making this request for someone else: Women tend to negotiate better when it is on behalf of others, so practicing the conversation as if you were supporting an employee or colleague can help you come up with all the reasons why you deserve what you’re asking for.
  4. Negotiate often: Negotiation is a skill that takes practice. Women tend to think of negotiating as a huge deal, and only negotiate for big items, while men tend to negotiate on a daily basis for all things big and small. Negotiating the small stuff can help build your skills with low stakes, making you more and more confident of your abilities when big negotiations are needed.

The final session, led by Paula Theus, Diversity Leader at PwC, focused on Closing the Confidence Gap for women in the workplace. Self-confidence, trust in one’s individual abilities and skills, is something that increases and decreases over time and across contexts. Still, the way we stand, speak, and behave may belie or even misrepresent our own confidence levels to others, in turn influencing their reactions to us. Studies have shown that women tend to underestimate their abilities by 20% where men tend to overestimate their abilities by 30%. This can have a huge impact on confidence and how we’re perceived and treated by others. The good news is, there are easy ways to project confidence when working with others, such as.

  • Stop saying “Sorry”: obviously it’s appropriate to apologize when you actually do something wrong, but stop apologizing as filler in everyday situations, like asking questions in meetings or emails. Constantly saying sorry undermines your completely valid reasons for doing what you’re doing.
  • Avoid deference and deflecting credit: We all want to be team players, but take credit for the things you say or do, or you run the risk of others getting the credit due to you.
  • Leave out caveats and indirect language: “This may be a silly idea but…” may sound like an easy way to sneak in a suggestion, but it immediately undermines your idea and tells people they can stop listening now. The same goes for indirect language like “maybe one option could be…” Let your ideas speak for themselves without couching them in caveats and safety nets.

The more we believe that we have the abilities and skills to get the job done, the more others will believe it, too.

All in all, it was a morning well spent networking and practicing valuable business skills at PwC. The WAPN is looking out for opportunities to partner with other companies to bring events such as this one to a broader audience, including men! If your company would be interested in co-hosting or participating in such an event, or if you have ideas for presentations or discussion topics, contact Samantha Lee, PwC Senior Associate at samantha.x.lee@pwc.com or Kuda Chibanda, PwC Manager at kudakwashe.chibanda@pwc.com

What advice do you have for building negotiating skills and projecting confidence in the workplace? Please leave your comment below.


About Mallika Bender

Mallika Bender, FCAS, MAAA is a property & casualty actuary with experience in the United States and Australia. She is the CAS diversity, equity & inclusion staff actuary. Bender’s pronouns are she/her/hers.

5 Responses to Women’s Actuarial Professionals Network (WAPN) dives into Confidence and Negotiation Skills for Women in the Workplace

  1. avatar Kiera Doster says:

    This is a great article! I wish the CAS would provide more information on similar topics, particularly at the CAS meetings.

  2. avatar Wesley Griffiths says:

    Props to PWC for what sounds like an exciting and successful event. It’s always valuable to have a safe zone to practice those important skills. Thanks for sharing Malika!

  3. avatar Justin Albert says:

    Mallika – thanks so much for sharing! Very powerful. Broader than negotiation and projecting confidence, but huge for taking advantage of opportunities, is to make sure you have sponsors (not just mentors). I have heard two good definitions of a sponsor:
    1. Someone that talks about you when you’re not in the room
    2. Someone who removes obstacles to get you to your next role
    I’ll ask the audience, who are your sponsors, and who are you sponsoring?

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