If you’re a woman, at some point you might have thought or been told that ‘women aren’t good negotiators.’
I’m here to dispel two myths: One, the idea that women are bad negotiators. Two, that simply by learning to negotiate better, women can eliminate the pay gap.
Women can be good negotiators
Three decades of research has consistently found that women perform worse than men do in negotiations. Generally, we categorise negotiation into two types: distributive and integrative bargaining. In distributive negotiations, two parties negotiate over a single issue, such as a price, and one person wins while the other one loses. Research shows women typically perform worse in these types of negotiations.
In integrative bargaining, both sides can walk away from the table winning something that meets their needs and interests by working together to achieve a solution. Women still perform worse than men in laboratory experiments of these types of negotiations.
Interestingly, when women negotiate on behalf of other people, they often perform better. For starters, negotiating on behalf of others fits the stereotype of women as selfless caregivers. Two, women often ask for more when negotiating on behalf of others because they feel they have less to lose. Although the commonly accepted wisdom in salary negotiations is that you should ‘always’ ask for more, women can often lose political and social capital by appearing to be too ‘pushy.’
We can learn a few things from the research on negotiations. First, women can brush up on their communication and negotiation skills and learn to ask more. They still need to be aware of the ‘double bind’ that hinders them; the tightrope they walk at work of not appearing too masculine nor too feminine still gives them fewer negotiating options than men have.
Second, women should view all conversations as negotiations. No matter the setting, there is give and take. By educating yourself on the basic tenets of negotiation, you can put yourself in an advantageous position.
One exercise I recommend to students and coaching clients is to ‘Collect 10 ‘Nos.’ ‘ Over the course of the next few weeks, everywhere you go, try to get people to tell you ‘no.’The more comfortable you get asking for small things, the more you can learn about how you can better tackle the big asks.
Put more on the table than just salary
Salary negotiations are important, but more women are finding that when it comes to creating a life that honours their values, other factors are just as important to negotiate.
A friend did just this when planning her first pregnancy. For her, a supportive supervisor made a big difference. As soon as she started thinking about creating a different type of work arrangement, she went to her boss and began discussing possibilities. Being prepared by understanding clearly the policies and procedures for a part-time work arrangement was the key step to successfully negotiation for her.
Among professional women, there are many stories like this. In some careers, women feel it would be taboo or hurt them professionally to take a longer leave of absence or to work part-time. Indeed, there are trade-offs. My friend revealed that if she wanted to get a promotion, her current arrangement wouldn’t allow that to happen.
One challenge is when they become associated with just one gender. When women negotiate for time off for reasons of pregnancy and childcare, they are often really negotiating about how they are perceived in the workplace.
As more and more fathers also negotiate for flexible working conditions as they take on a larger share of parenting and household management, disassociating gender from flexible work may help women as well.
So guys, do us a favour and negotiate for some flex time as well!
The gender gap is real.
You’ve probably seen the headlines. The gender wage gap will take another 170 years to close. Only 14pc of executives are women. Education doesn’t solve the gender pay gap. The gender pay gap is narrowing in some fields but getting worse in others.
Then there is the other side. Women just need to ask for more money. Women choose lower paying work (this ignores that there is still a pay gap when you control for the industry and job category). Women choose to stay home when they have children (which they either should do or shouldn’t do, depending on the author of the story) and therefore they deserve less money.
The facts are that the gender gap is real. Yes, there are differences in how much money men and women make based on factors such as choice of industry, time taken off for children, and level of the position. In fact, up to 50pc of the wage gap can be explained by factors under a woman’s control such as choice of field and occupation.
However, there are some unexplained factors even when you control for all of those factors. In fields such as medical sciences, financial management and law, the pay gap remains significant. As more women enter predominantly male fields, the pay gap shrinks little by little.
After all, everything we know about motivation tells us that by creating fair workplaces, we will motivate all employees.
When employees feel that their inputs — their education, their experience, how hard they work and not their gender — dictate their outputs, motivation and engagement will rise for all employees regardless of gender.
After all, in the best negotiations, everyone walks away from the table with a win.
The Washington Post Service
Published in Dawn, Economic & Business, April 10th, 2017