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6 expert negotiation tips for women and racialized groups

If you find you are not getting the deal you want, here’s how to reach an outcome that works for everyone

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Businesswoman leads a meeting in a bright office space.Understanding the other party’s perspective is essential in negotiation. Try to understand what the person is trying to achieve, what biases they might have, and how you can work together to come to a mutually agreeable outcome. (Getty Images/Blue Images)

It’s probably fair to say that most people who aren’t in the business of negotiation have a hard time with it. But for women and racialized groups, the process can be even more difficult. As Tanya Walker, a commercial litigator and founder of Walker Law, points out, “Women might not negotiate as much because they believe it runs counter to their socially accepted role as nurturers.  And members of racialized groups might not be used to seeing people who look like them at certain levels—and for that reason, they settle for less.”

But whether you are a newly minted CPA or a manager in industry looking to move up the ranks, there are ways to overcome these obstacles. As a Black female professional whose job involves a good deal of negotiating, Walker has a number of tips that can help you reach your goals. And given that the theme for International Women’s Day this year is “Choose to challenge,” there’s no better time to think of how you can make a strong showing, no matter what you are negotiating. (As CPAs are more in demand than ever, your prospects are excellent.)


For any kind of negotiation, it pays to do your research. “The more knowledge you have, the more it takes the focus away from you as a woman or a visible minority and puts the focus on the issue at hand,” says Walker. 

For example, before proposing a certain rate to a client, Walker says a lawyer might research current rates by asking peers in similar roles, checking online, considering how many years they have been practising, and so on. CPAs can conduct similar research; also, all members have access to salary data from compensation surveys conducted by CPA Canada.  

If you are applying for a job, you should find out as much as you can about the position and the company and decide what is most important to you. “It’s not just about money—it might be about spending more time doing a particular task, or having more vacation time or receiving assistance with paying down student loans,” says Walker. 

Tanya Walker in courtTanya Walker, founder of Walker Law (Photograph by Cyril Cromwell)


When negotiating compensation, make sure to emphasize the value you bring to the table. For example, Walker says that, with prospective clients, she always enumerates her achievements. That way, they will know her rate is justified. “It’s not just focusing on the dollars, it’s focusing on the value we bring for what we charge,” she says.

It’s also important to show you are a team player and ready to go above and beyond, says Walker. For example, before her performance review last year, one of Walker’s team members created a document outlining her current role at the firm, where she felt she was doing particularly well, how she had improved and where she thought she could make further improvements. “She also showed how she is helping us achieve our goals by taking on tasks, such as writing grant applications that are beyond her job description,” says Walker. “Based on all of the work she had done and the improvements she had made, we gave her a raise.”


Walker says 95 per cent of her negotiations are with men, and remarks are sometimes made that, while not explicitly gender- or race-based, may betray a certain bias. And she says her response depends very much on the situation.

“I usually think about whether the person is making the remark on purpose or whether they are making it subconsciously. For example, when I was eight months pregnant and in an examination for discovery, the opposing lawyer asked if I was ‘being difficult’ because I was in a ‘certain condition.’ In that case, I called it out because the session was being recorded and the judge may read the transcript. Normally, though, I will pull the person aside and tell them that I don’t appreciate their comment. I always tend to deal with these things in private because sometimes people don’t fully understand the gravity of what they are saying.”

As mentioned, this year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Choose to challenge”—a theme that underscores the need to call out gender and racial bias, whether it manifests through inappropriate remarks or other means.


Understanding the other party’s perspective is essential in negotiation, says Walker. “You should always try to understand what the person is trying to achieve, what biases they might have and how you can work together to come to a mutually agreeable outcome,” she says. 

At the same time, though, it’s important to think how your own experience might affect your perceptions. For example, Walker says that when she is dealing with people in her parents’ age group, she understands that they may treat her as a child. “But they might not—and you have to be prepared for that,” she says. 


No matter what the circumstance, it’s essential to stay calm, says Walker. “I have found that when you let emotions impact you, it can cloud your judgment. That’s why it’s important not to take things personally. Stick to the facts, while staying polite and respectful,” she says. 

As an example, Walker points to a case where she was cross examining a wealthy executive. “He got very upset because my questions made him look bad and hurt his case,” she says. “So, I just reminded him that I was just doing my job and that I wasn’t judging him in any way. He really calmed down after that.” 


In hiring situations, some women and racialized groups might feel so lucky to be offered the job that they accept the offer as is—even if it is below their expectations.

But as Walker points out, it’s important not to settle too early. “If an employer extends an offer to you, that means they want you. Many people will have applied, and the employer will have picked a handful of people from that group to interview. 

“So even if you have your mind set that you are not going to negotiate, take a step back and remember that you’re not there because of luck. You deserve to be there.” 


Find out more about finding the right career for you, making a switch and negotiating a raise.  Also, learn more about the importance of diversity of boards and how the Big Four are responding to and reflecting on Canada’s changing demographics.