Women and Negotiations: Don't Wait to Be Asked/OfferedNever underestimate the power of networks to help decipher the rules of the game.
Women have terrific negotiating skills—when used on behalf of others, said Sara Laschever. But when it comes to taking care of their own needs, they’re like the proverbial shoemaker’s kids: They generally go barefoot. Women need to get much better at articulating what they need in the workplace.
Laschever co-authored (with Dr. Linda Babcock, the James Mellon Walton professor of economics at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University) the book Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and Gender Divide ( Bantam Books, 2003).
In her presentation at the Purdue University Conference for Pre-Tenure Women held at the Indiana school in September, she spoke about the importance of women learning to negotiate, especially for salary and opportunities.
She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Boston University and has been a writer/editor for more than 25 years. Fueling her interest in barriers to women’s career success was her early 1990s job as the principal interviewer for Project Access, a landmark NSF-funded Harvard study of 200 scientists across the country.
Consider the economic implications of these statistics:
• Some 50% of all marriages end in divorce.
• In 2000, 76.8% of women aged 25 to 54 worked outside the home, and even more do so today.
• Union membership has declined at least 33% overall since 1983, although in some states it has grown.
• Women’s earnings are still only about 73.2% of men’s.
• In 1970, the percentage of babies born to single mothers was 10%; today it’s up more than 33%.
“The cost to women for not negotiating is significant,” said Laschever. With numbers like those, we need to leverage every opportunity, seen and unseen. But we shortchange ourselves by not learning how to advocate and negotiate for what we want.
“Advocacy and taking care of people are gender norms for women,” she said. Just not for ourselves, it seems. Some 20% of us admit to never having negotiated anything, although we recognize its importance.
She gave three reasons why not:
• The socialization of children. Training in gender norms starts early. Toys, books, television shows, movies, even assigned chores and adult models all have gender messages, telling girls that they’re expected to be nice, cheerful and good-natured.
“They often don’t realize that they can ask for something they want, that asking is even possible,” she said. “We feel nervous or anxious when asking for things for ourselves.”
The good news: The messages that we received as girls can be unlearned. Society, not us, is to blame.
Men are expected to be tough guys. They’re encouraged to go in and mix it up and get what they want. With that kind of dichotomy in expectations, guess who wins in the world of work?
Laschever cited a study showing that as early as first grade, little boys will raise their hands in class to answer a question even if they don’t know the answer. They simply want the teacher’s attention. Little girls won’t raise their hands even when they do know the answer.
“Boys want to be offered attention and acknowledgment for brains and work,” she said. “Women wait to be asked, wait to be offered.”
• Adult behaviors. These expected behavior patterns carry over into adulthood. Both males and other females dislike women who are aggressive in pursuing what they want. Overly assertive women are not invited to collaborate or join a powerful committee. Instead they get stigmatized: punished, called ugly names and sabotaged.
This type of peer pressure causes women who want to move forward to reconsider, especially after seeing a colleague who tried to do so be bullied, punished and sanctioned after her attempt. “Negotiating to get ahead seems like a dangerous strategy,” said Laschever. So even those with a bit of moxie may decide to step back and observe.
Men who may be less or equally qualified will ask for and get what they want. The result? Their careers move ahead faster than their female peers, a situation that’s all too apparent in academe.
Men who have asked for bigger lab budgets or additional help end up accomplishing more professionally during their careers and reach higher levels of success than women, who are more likely to hang back.
• Women’s access to networks. Never underestimate the power of networks to help decipher the rules of the game. Networks contain lots of hidden opportunities, including information that can make the difference between getting ahead in a career or reaching a plateau.
“People in power often know about these opportunities,” said Laschever. “They don’t send emails or knock on doors about them. They tell their networks.”
Men are more likely to go out for drinks after a long day at work or after the sessions at conferences. Women who choose to join the group can feel uncomfortable or have their attendance be misinterpreted.
How important are these informal opportunities? More important than it would appear from the outside. One man will tell a male colleague about a separate pile of money set aside for research or travel and encourage him to apply for it.
Men give each other advice on whom to talk to, how to ask and when to ask. They compare negotiations to a “wrestling match” or “winning a ball game.”
Women’s perspectives on negotiations are less optimistic. They report much more apprehension and compare the experience to “going to the dentist.”
If women don’t know what they can ask for, it can backfire—and with good reason. They remember what happened to those who did and are determined not to let it happen to them. Never underestimate the power of networks to help decipher the rules of the game.
If we do negotiate, we’re more pessimistic about what’s available on the table. Even women who negotiate find they get almost 30% less than men who negotiate.
The dirty little secret is that when we do negotiate, we’re actually better at it than our male colleagues. Instead of the short-term gain, we are in it for the long-term relationship.
“Women more often than men take a ‘collaborative’ or cooperative approach to negotiation that has been shown to produce agreements that are better for both sides,” said Laschever. “We try to find the win-win solutions.” How to change it Women need to look around more actively for things to negotiate. There are many things that we assume aren’t available but they really are, or a suitable alternative exists.
To get around the barriers and pump up their negotiating strength, women need to expand their skills, add to their portfolios and collaborate with people who can further their goals.
The old axiom “Practice makes perfect” applies directly to negotiation. Don’t go in to the negotiations cold. Practice role playing with a trusted friend, family member or colleague at your same level or one step ahead. “You need to review your social networks and identify someone who could help you,” she said.
Brief someone who knows the situation and tell her what you fear. Practice basic negotiating concepts and concentrate on remaining calm in a stressful situation.
Learn trusted techniques from professional negotiators and read books and articles on strategies.
Talk to people you know and ask what they think someone at your level should get in salary, opportunities, hidden resources or alternative paths. “People are happy to share advice if they don’t have too much on the line,” said Laschever. Remember to give future referrals to others in the same situation. Identify what it is you’re negotiating for, then go for it.
By not negotiating a first salary, a woman stands to lose more than $500,000 by age 60. Men are more than four times as likely as women to negotiate their starting salary.
“Many women are so grateful to be offered a job that they accept what they are offered and don’t negotiate their salaries,” she said. We set ourselves up for inequity even before our first day on the job. A study found that women who consistently negotiated their salary increases earned at least $1 million more during their careers than women who didn’t.
Still nervous? Remember that it’s not only employees who suffer when women don’t negotiate. Organizations do too. If not treated fairly, women will move on and take their training, skills and potential elsewhere. Attrition costs businesses over $11 billion each year when employees leave for greener pastures.
Unfair salary distributions open an organization to lawsuits and hamper progress by wasting the best human capital.
“By promoting men more than women because the men ask, businesses don’t always promote the best people,” she said. They don’t get the unique perspectives women bring to solving problems, creating new products or taking advantage of new opportunities.
After Laschever’s speech at Microsoft, a woman approached her and told her that she had tried to negotiate for a higher starting salary and was turned down, while men who joined the company at the same time got 10% more. The Microsoft employee didn’t know that the initial “no” was simply an opening gambit in negotiations.
How could she have discovered that? Laschever advised talking to career services at the Microsoft employee’s alma mater and have them connect her with alumni who work at the company. People are usually willing to help fellow alumni.
When in negotiations, find out exactly why they won’t give you what you want. Look at the perceived impediments and how you can get around them.
Be careful! Don’t agree to something inferior when you could get something much better.
A big part of what derails people in negotiations—especially women—is being taken by surprise. If you’ve prepared and encounter intense emotions during the actual negotiating session, you can use your preparation to find a calm, rational manner.
“The critical piece of negotiation for women is style,” said Laschever. “In order for women to be persuasive and influential, women must also be perceived as being likable.” We have to employ all of our skills, but social skills such as smiling, making eye contact and projecting an upbeat, positive persona will enhance the chances of success.
One other important consideration is to really review the sources of your value such as your publication record, teaching evaluations, professional contacts and reputation in the field. Determine how much you are really worth and remind the negotiator of that.
“Women report salary expectations between 3% and 32% lower than those of men for the same jobs,” she said. “Men expect to earn 13% more than women during their first year of full-time work and 32% more at career peak.”
For the first time in history, women now comprise the majority of the workforce. In this difficult economy, women have held their own while men have been pushed out of the workforce. But now men are coming back, while women’s employment rate has plateaued.
Women now earn 60% of bachelor’s degrees and 51% of PhDs. A huge cohort of educated women is pushing against and cracking the various glass ceilings.
Schools can’t ignore or discard them because there aren’t as many men in the pipeline as in the past. An administrator needing to fill a top position with an outstanding candidate is likely to turn to another woman.
Our time is here. Let’s negotiate a positive solution to the salary disparities and missing opportunities for ourselves and future women in the workplace.
Contact Sara Laschever at:
Santovec, Mary Lou. (2011, November). Women and Negotiations: Don't Wait to Be Asked/Offered. Women in Higher Education, 20(11), p. 22-23.