I used to be skeptical of claims that gender made a significant difference in a person’s negotiation effectiveness.

I have negotiated for and against many women over the years and taught thousands of women to more effectively negotiate. Only rarely did I feel that a party had an advantage or disadvantage due solely to his or her gender.

In their book, “Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide,” Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever challenge this assumption and contend that certain gender-based tendencies provide women with both advantages and disadvantages.

In a dramatic illustration of this, the authors describe a recent study showing the starting salaries of female Carnegie Mellon MBA graduates as almost $4,000 less than male graduates of the same school.

Why? “Only 7 percent of the female students had negotiated (their salary) but 57 percent … of the men had asked for more money.” Those who negotiated, be it men or women, increased their starting salary by just over $4,000.

Washington Post included a list from Carnegie Mellon Professor Linda Babcock contrasting salary negotiation differences between men and women. She has found:

  • Women, on average, ask for 30 percent less money than men
  • Men are eight times more likely than women to negotiate their starting salary and benefits
  • Women ask for raises or promotions 85 percent less often than men

Overall, the authors conclude the following based on numerous studies, many involving salary negotiations:

  • Women tend to view fewer situations as even involving a negotiation. They thus just accept what’s offered more often than men and don’t even ask for more.
  • Women tend to have lower expectations and self-confidence than men in many negotiation settings and thus, when they do ask, they tend to ask for less and concede more.
  • Women tend to experience higher anxiety than men in conflict-oriented negotiation settings.
  • Women tend to be more relationship-oriented, and thus shy away from raising issues that they perceive might harm their relationships.
  • Parties tend to make some of the above assumptions in negotiating with women, and thus take a tougher stance against women than against men.
  • Women’s tendency to be more relationship-oriented and cooperative can give them an advantage in situations where the parties recognize the value of the relationships and a more collaborative negotiation environment exists.
  • Many of these tendencies do not hold true in situations where women negotiate on behalf of others.

Why do these tendencies exist? According to the authors, they generally derive from society’s expectations and social conditioning — from childhood on — of the different gender-oriented traits and roles.

For instance, the authors note that “women are thought to be more other-oriented and men are thought to be more self-oriented.”

This has obvious implications in negotiations, where just asking for more for yourself is a highly self-oriented activity.

Of course, these characteristics are general tendencies and not immutable qualities.

Exceptions exist. And these authors’ conclusions are not without controversy. Professor Richard Shell of the Wharton School of Business has conducted studies among professionals that show little gender difference at all in parties’ negotiation styles and approaches to conflict.

So, what strategies should women use to increase their overall effectiveness, assuming these tendencies put them at a disadvantage?

4 Strategies to Reduce Pay Gaps

Interestingly, everyone should use the following strategies. But women should especially use these strategies, according to the authors, as they counteract some of women’s problematic tendencies.

1. Ask.

You must first view the situation as involving a negotiation. Expand your perception of negotiable situations. If you’re offered a job at a particular salary, consider it a first offer. You will never get what you don’t ask for.

2. Set aggressive goals and raise your expectations.

Don’t sell yourself short before you have even begun.

Instead, extensively research the applicable standards underlying your negotiation, like what your employer pays others with similar experience and expertise. Then be aggressive in setting your goal.

Also expect to succeed. Don’t just try. Your passionate, positive attitude will make a bottom line difference.

3. Increase your confidence and reduce your anxiety with some training.

If you’re uncomfortable and anxious about negotiating in certain situations, study the process and get some training.

Increased knowledge and practice in a risk-free environment will reduce your anxiety and increase your effectiveness.

4. Consider hiring an agent to negotiate for you.

It sometimes just makes more sense to hire an agent to negotiate for you. The agency dynamic tends to reduce many of the gender-oriented disadvantages described above.

If your anxiety level is sky high, ask a friend or hire a professional to negotiate for you.

In an ideal world, a person’s gender would have little impact on his or her negotiation effectiveness.

Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. Until then, we need to understand and consider the impact of the tendencies articulated in “Women Don’t Ask..”

Published December 5, 2003 The Business Journal

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