Monday, July 30, 2007

Negotiating is not ladylike

I just read this Washington Post article about the salary gap between men and women -- and how women are less likely to negotiate for higher salaries. According to the article:

The traditional explanation for the gender differences that Babcock found is that men are simply more aggressive than women, perhaps because of a combination of genetics and upbringing. The solution to gender disparities, this school of thought suggests, is to train women to be more assertive and to ask for more. However, a new set of experiments by Babcock and Hannah Riley Bowles, who studies the psychology of organizations at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, offers an entirely different explanation.

Their study, which was coauthored by Carnegie Mellon researcher Lei Lai, found that men and women get very different responses when they initiate negotiations. Although it may well be true that women often hurt themselves by not trying to negotiate, this study found that women's reluctance was based on an entirely reasonable and accurate view of how they were likely to be treated if they did. Both men and women were more likely to subtly penalize women who asked for more -- the perception was that women who asked for more were "less nice".

I think that is very true in life, not just in the workplace. Even though my mom always tells me that "if you don't ask for something, you're never going to get it," I'm always hesitant to negotiate out of the fear that I'll be perceived negatively -- too aggressive, bitchy, etc. It's probably why, until this year, I haven't been willing to negotiate my rent increase. I didn't want to seem aggressive, or cheap, or whatever -- so it was just easier to pay more.

I don't mean to imply that men don't worry about how others perceive them. That's clearly not fair. I just don't think that they're quite as focused on it as women. You know, like how women stress out about what they're going to wear -- because they're convinced that everyone's going to notice -- and judge them.


E :) said...

That's really interesting. I, for one, am comfortable negotiating about professional issues, but when it comes to personal salary issues, etc, I hate it. Maybe I now know why.

Difference said...

There's actually been a lot of research into gender differences in salary negotiation. Babcock and Bowles suggest that there may be a difference based on the corporate cultures in particular industries. If you're interested in this sort of thing, I link to several other studies in my blog post today at differenceblog on

dara said...

e :) -- I'm not comfortable negotiating for anything. I'll only do it under duress. Haggling in the markets in Morocco was one of the most stressful experiences I've had in a long time.

Difference -- I work in an industry where salary is pre-set and announced, so I haven't had the pleasure of having to negotiate that. Still, I'm looking forward to reading the studies.

Funny T-shirts said...

I totally agree with Dara one must not interfere in others personal life.

rock_ninja said...

Wait, you can negotiate your rent increase? Is that across the board, or just if you don't live in a big building owned by a huge conglomerate?

I used to be wholly anti-flip-flop, since it sets a beachy sort of precedent, despite the fact that we have casual dress during the summer. I resisted until my Executive Director (female) started wearing them.

dara said...

rock ninja: Like my mom says, "if you don't ask for something, you're never going to get it." I think you can negotiate rent, regardless of whether it's with a big conglomerate or with a small landlord, as long as they're willing to negotiate back. If they're not, well, you're left with the choice of accepting or not.

I'm not wholly anti flip-flop or croc anymore (more flip-flop than croc, but whatever), but I still don't think they're appropriate for work. I do occasionally wear them as my commuting shoes (i.e. to/from metro), but if they're getting caught in the escalators, I'm going to stop doing it. Now.