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Why do women hate negotiating?

Earlier this week, I stood before hundreds of women leading a workshop on negotiating skills. The scene was the Pennsylvania Governor's conference for women. My job was to give attendees techniques to maneuver through tough bargaining conversations.

Women that attend these sessions tend to be extremely engaged, receptive and curious and this week's session was no exception. Yet one event unfolded that was particularly unhinging. Assessing where the women were in terms of negotiating experience, I asked, as I often do, who in the room counter-offered their current salary.

About 10 percent of the room raised their hands.

If you've never personally observed this, it is uniquely unsettling--but if you conduct your own local experiments you'll likely see the same result, and not just around salary. In fact women initiate negotiations four times less often than their male counterparts. Women also report "a great deal of apprehension" about negotiation--at a rate 2.5 times more than men, according to the research of Carnegie Mellon's Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever.

One data point from Babcock and Laschever's research, which appears simple on its face, is even more striking. When asked to pick metaphors that represent the practice of negotiating, women most often selected "going to the dentist" while men more often chose "a ballgame" or "a wrestling match." This finding demonstrates, in a painfully clear way, that many women equate negotiating to something passive--something that is being done to them--while men see themselves as an active participant in a strategic pursuit.

Despite being quite familiar with such research, in the year 2010, I have to ask how the picture in my workshop could be reality.

After all, it seems women are negotiating, in many day-to-day ways. Whether brokering a deal with her child, getting her family to reach consensus or making trades and concessions around her time, a woman is in bargaining situations all the time.

It's our decision, or lack of it, to bring these skills into the workplace where some of the issues begin to arise. Our hesitation to ask substantially hurts our earning potential, our access to plum work assignments and our opportunities for promotions. In the larger view, it minimizes our input into decisions that affect us, making our voice a barely audible whisper.

Are our countries' employment policies outdated and structured in a way that disadvantages women? By and large, yes. Are there still particles of gender discrimination floating around the workplace? A look at the decisions of recent gender discrimination suits shows that's proven. But while some such forces exist that keep women from reaching parity in pay or the top ranks of business, our own ability to "push back" and negotiate is not one of them.

Perhaps successful women executives are born with the ability to advocate for a cause, direction or point of view―however unpopular. Maybe they were lucky enough to learn about negotiating in school. My own research interviewing women executives shows that top women learned these skills with experience. They observed that good work does not guarantee rewards at work. They learned that people that advocate on their own behalf move up, not those who wait to be noticed.

Women that make it to the top also challenge long-standing beliefs in order to get themselves to the negotiating table. They push back on the "good girl"-isms with which they grew up. They didn't buy into: "Be seen and not heard," "Always be nice" or "Don't be too outspoken." On the contrary, to survive in a top role, they ask for what they want. They're firm. They don't accept what's unacceptable.

Let me be clear, women are not deficient. We possess every intellectual tool needed to negotiate. In some ways, women have even more bargaining chips than men when you consider, for example, that they earn the majority of advanced degrees today.

It's a different negotiation mindset that can help us get over the hump. As someone that once pictured negotiation negatively (think bloody bullfight), I have come to pare it down to one excruciatingly simple act: a conversation that ends in agreement. Getting clear on why we're asking, and knowing that we deserve a seat at the table and that our case is worth pursuing can make the difference. Women who negotiate ignite a deep, healthy kind of self respect.

Negotiating isn't just one of several leadership competencies, it's the most important tool at women's disposal. A woman can work on being well networked or technically brilliant, but without the ability to ask she has nothing.

Not asking devastates our promise. Negotiating on our own behalf however gets us far more than a material good. It's about having a voice, piping up and advocating for ourselves. Those women who choose to strengthen their muscles of self agency can expect a whole new world of possibilities to open. They might even gasp at their strength.

By Selena Rezvani

 |  October 15, 2010; 1:09 PM ET
Category:  Compensation , Leadership and Compensation , Leadership development , Women in Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I think that the more confident a woman is in her abilities and knowledge in her field- the more likely she is to be assertive in the area of negotiating. If someone doesn't think they know much about a topic- they will be less likely to stand up and try to be heard. No one wants to come across as a fool, and this could be why most women are timid when it comes to standing their ground. But they should have more confidence in their abilities- they can do it.

Posted by: Gina17 | October 21, 2010 4:04 PM
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@JAFI7975601: To be clear, I'm not in any way suggesting that men don't also need outreach on this issue. Nor am I suggesting an absolute solution: hence my use of mitigation, rather than elimination.

But you'll note that in the research, women are likely to punish other women as well: the problem isn't entirely the gender of the boss, it is also the way we view women demanding things.

I'm not suggesting GetRaised.com or any one strategy is the clear cut answer. But rather than being quite so pessimistic, at least we're trying to construct a way that women can gain equal pay with fewer side effects. And to the best of the data we have, we're managing to do that - certainly we're new on the block and we'd like the dataset to be larger, but the trends are good.

Posted by: matt_at_GetRaised | October 18, 2010 11:08 AM
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It's not a cut and dried solution unfortunately. There are strategies but still landmines. While training women in strategies is absolutely essential - there also needs to be outreach to men.

"Are Outside Offers an Answer to the Compensation Negotiation Dilemma for Women?" Academy of Management Proceedings 2009 (2009). (Bowles and Babcock)
Women face a compensation negotiation dilemma in which they have to weigh the economic benefits of asking for higher pay with the social risks of defying prescriptive sex stereotypes (Bowles, Babcock, & Lai, 2007). In four experiments, we show that enhancing the legitimacy of women's compensation requests does not eliminate the social risk of asking, and that eliminating the social risk of asking is not sufficient to legitimize their requests. We identify strategies for overcoming the compensation negotiation dilemma using "relational accounts" that simultaneously explain why the negotiating behavior is appropriate under the circumstances and affirm concern for organizational relationships.

When Doesn't it Hurt Her to Ask? Framing and Justification Reduce the Social Risks of Initiating Compensation (Bowles/Babcock 2008)
Previous research shows that initiating compensation negotiations is socially risky for women (Bowles, Babcock, & Lai, 2007). The current research investigates whether there are ways women can ask to minimize these social risks. In three studies, we test impressions created by alternative frames and justifications for initiating compensation negotiations. We identify two strategies for reducing the social risks for women of asking for higher compensation: (1) using a communal frame to communicate concern for relationships and (2) justifying the request with external validation (viz., outside offer). However, findings suggest both strategies are vulnerable to negative interpretation when used in combination. In conclusion, we offer principles but no clear-cut solutions for minimizing the social risks to women of asking for higher pay.

Posted by: JaFi79756011 | October 18, 2010 9:35 AM
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One reason for this is that private negotiations with a boss, etc opens you up to sexual discrimination. Most women would not feel comfortable "owing a boss one" because we all know how they often would want to collect.

Males can negotiate without fear of this.

Posted by: hmmmw | October 17, 2010 8:43 PM
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The most important part of the article needs more development: the metaphorical differences expressed by men and women about negotiations. Men see it as sport, women see it as pain. The psychological underpinnings of that will explain the differences. Expand the understanding behind the language differences and we will see a path for all regardless of their sex.

Posted by: jsjmmurray | October 17, 2010 7:05 PM
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@JAFI79756011: It is worth noting that in later studies, there have been demonstrations of how those effects can be mitigated by the way in which women ask for raises. At least part of the effect, for example, is driven by the fact that women tend to make "emotional requests" (I want, I need, I deserve) rather than "logical requests" (here is market rate, here are my increased responsibilities, here is my justification).

Which is actually part of why we built GetRaised - http://www.getraised.com - which helps people lay out a logical raise request. More importantly, to @SKOWRONEK's point, it first uses concrete data to help them understand if they are underpaid to begin with. By establishing a market rate, then acting on it, women (and men) can have a much greater chance of making a successful compensation request.

There is a substantial amount of academic research on this subject (check out Linda Babcock's "Women Don't Ask" for a good survey of the lit) and yet we suffer most from lack of data. Because companies are not compelled to share salary data, it is difficult to amass a large enough sample to truly conclude what is going on with salaries at any given company. Again, we're trying to use GetRaised to cure part of that.

We can be fairly sure of the following:

1) They are also generally less well paid than men for the same job (recent stories to the contrary are taking into account that women are more likely to graduate college; they are noting that women make more than men on the whole, but only because they are more likely to hold college-degree-requiring jobs). For the same job, women are paid less.

3) Women don't ask for raises as often and are less likely to get them. Again, the evidence seems to suggest that this about the way that women ask, rather than simply because of their gender, but it is hard to know without more evidence.

These are all correctable problems. By law, you can't pay a woman less simply because she is a woman: greater salary transparency would make it more difficult to do so. And with tools like GetRaised, we can both show women when they are underpaid, encourage them to ask for raises, and then help them form those requests in a logical, organization-driven way.

We have the tools - the next step is just helping more women to get access to use them.

Posted by: matt_at_GetRaised | October 17, 2010 5:42 PM
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Our company sent surveys to 20,000 potential respondents, over half of those who did respond were women.... http://www.theexecutivesearchgroup.com/executiverecruiting/blog/bid/45216/Straight-Talk-About-Gender-Equity-and-Executive-Recruiting

Posted by: yeswecan2222 | October 17, 2010 4:39 PM
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I refer you to a story published by the WP in 2007

Salary, Gender and the Social Cost of Haggling

"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".

"What we found across all the studies is men were always less willing to work with a woman who had attempted to negotiate than with a woman who did not," Bowles said. "They always preferred to work with a woman who stayed mum. But it made no difference to the men whether a guy had chosen to negotiate or not.""

Posted by: JaFi79756011 | October 17, 2010 3:53 PM
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American women may dislike negotiating but in some other countries they're as rabid as any man... American men are also terrible at negotiating because neither sex has experience in America growing up whereas in other countries people negotiate for many many things and learn how to.

Posted by: kkrimmer | October 17, 2010 2:23 PM
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Anything starting with "Why do women..." is already overgeneralized. And, of course, points to some deficiency in the woman, rather than asking, "Why does business remain so anti-woman in leadership positions?" Oh, right--you say that has by and large disappeared. You don't live in the real world, then. Sexism is alive and well and thriving. Look at what happened to Hillary with the jokes and the "Nutcracker" dolls. You think she doesn't know how to negotiate? Second, this is a glib article. Women who speak up are viewed as "difficult"--just check with Geithner about Elizabeth Warren.

Posted by: Beckola | October 17, 2010 10:44 AM
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Oh, and "going to the dentist"? On what planet does that denote passivity? It means agony!!

Posted by: Blurgle | October 17, 2010 12:13 AM
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I have been fired just for asking for a raise. I have been told, outright, that simply asking for a raise would prevent me from being promoted and will likely get me put on the next layoff list. This even though in both cases I had demonstrable proof that I had improved the corporate bottom line.

In both cases I was told, outright, that women (and only women) who didn't take what management decided to give them, quietly and without comment or negotiation, were not valued employees and could go get a job cleaning toilets at minimum wage.

Bottom line, management does not want women to negotiate, and will punish them for trying.

Posted by: Blurgle | October 17, 2010 12:11 AM
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"when you consider, for example, that they earn the majority of advanced degrees today.
In what, nutrition? Let's cut out all the online pseudo degrees and see what's left behind..."


It's true, in nearly EVERY field, and in the best colleges. If current trends continue the last dude will receive a college degree around 2050.

Posted by: tjconnor | October 16, 2010 7:33 PM
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Some women tend to take any questioning of their positions as personal criticism. I've served on several all-women nonprofit boards, and have observed that reaching a consensus on anything, even the most minimal by-law changes, can become a heated dispute when too many thin-skinned women are invested in their "feelings" versus the goals of the organization.

Posted by: judithod | October 16, 2010 5:44 PM
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Women hate negotiating because it's what they usually have to do when they can't get their way simply because they're women. In today's world, you don't get your way because of what you are. Nobody falls for that anymore.

Posted by: beatle-maniac1 | October 16, 2010 2:16 PM
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"But women also put too much emphasis on honesty? and that doesn't help in negotiations..."


Yeah, right.

Posted by: Closer2theBorderlin | October 16, 2010 7:09 AM
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when you consider, for example, that they earn the majority of advanced degrees today.


In what, nutrition? Let's cut out all the online pseudo degrees and see what's left behind...

Posted by: Closer2theBorderlin | October 16, 2010 7:07 AM
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I'm a woman and, oddly enough, I've never had a problem with negotiating. My parents and a much-loved teacher always enforced the idea that it never hurts to ask--the worse that can happen is that you're told "No". I negotiate for just about everything--even when I'm shopping. I usually get positive results; no one ever expects you to try. You do, of course, have to be reasonable; don't ask for too much in a bad economy, but don't just let someone use the economy as an excuse when they're getting raises.

Posted by: zydecoqueen | October 16, 2010 12:42 AM
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It's definitely cultural. If you have been to a country with a marketplace culture, women negotiate very well.

Posted by: staticvars | October 15, 2010 10:58 PM
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Negotiation involves give and take. Women don't like this formula. They are always fearful of how much to give and be taken seriously, or how little to take for the same reason.

Its very different when they are 'shopping' and haggling, which appears to be a common stress reducer for the entire gender.Negotiations with 'consequences' are an entirely different thing.

Unfortunately, just like the 'dentist', only once given all the facts is she likely to negotiate fairly, so the best offense in negotiating with women is a clear presentation of the issues and terms under negotiation. If she learns something she didn't already know she will be more likely to accede. However, if the facts are obscure so will be the negotiation, in which case she's likely to leave you naked on the sidewalk.

Posted by: llocat333 | October 15, 2010 10:47 PM
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Someone below posted:

"But women also put too much emphasis on honesty? and that doesn't help in negotiations..."

I only wish that more of those women who put "too much" emphasis on honesty had been involved in our mortgage finance industry.

We might have avoided the fiasco currently unfolding.

Posted by: quiet1 | October 15, 2010 10:38 PM
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Maybe women don't want to give up any demands because they "start too low" to begin with out of a lack of confidence. Everyone knows in theory that you have to ask for more than you want because you'll inevitably get worked down to something lower...and you have to know what you're willing to give up...maybe because some of those things were bluffed and you never wanted them in the first place! But women also put too much emphasis on honesty? and that doesn't help in negotiations...

Posted by: reneeh63 | October 15, 2010 10:22 PM
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It is difficult to negotiate in US corporate culture as a woman for several reasons.

First, the cultural expectation, is that we woman make sacrifices, for our children, for our husbands, for our ailing parents...we are the care takers more often than not in our society...so walk into any negotiation as a woman, and anticipate that the other side will expect you to capitulate, to take care of their needs and accept less, to be a bargain.

Because you are.

You as a woman, statistically speaking probably out scored, out degreed many of the men you are competing with for salary, but culturally, men are the seen as the bread winners, and men played football and other sports with the guys with the wallets making the decisions.

So expect an uphill battle.

Forever you will be seen as the employee with the possibility of pregnancy, and who wants to pay for that, and then you are simply an old woman, and why pay for an old woman when you can have younger, cheaper woman?

I don't know who the writer of this column has negotiated with, but it sounds unfamiliar in my memory of the hundred or so legal cases and legislative amendments I've negotiated over the years.

"I have come to pare it down to one excruciatingly simple act: a conversation that ends in agreement.


Successful negotiations are not that.

Usually, they involve, quite a bit of posturing, some give and take, with both sides walking away somewhat dissatisfied.

The rules of thumb hold true:

The side that reveals their position first is at a strategic disadvantage.

You are unlikely to ever have as much salary bargaining power as the day the job is offered to you.

Understanding what's valued by both parties puts you in a better position to get more of what you want.

And still, in the end, negotiating as a woman is usually unpleasant.

You are going to have to disappoint someone: the other party, or your self.

Either you press them to pay you what you are worth, or accept less, and be angry at yourself for doing so.

Either way, just understand, the odds are stacked against you.

It's like I tell my son when he is struggling with his homework or gets a bad grade: "Honey, don't get too worried about it, once you get through school and grow up, they always pay the guys more."

Posted by: quiet1 | October 15, 2010 9:47 PM
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That women appear not to negotiate is because they negotiate differently. Read Deborah Tannen's book "You Don't Understand" discussing the difference in the communication methodologies of men and women.

In general, women negotiate by first establishing an emotional rapport or connection with the other party. This is why negotiations with family members, etc. are different.

"Whether brokering a deal with her child, getting her family to reach consensus or making trades and concessions around her time, a woman is in bargaining situations all the time."

An attempt to establish an emotional connection or rapport as a preliminary to a substantive business negotiation is difficult and may appear strange to the other party. Men may begin a negotiation with a quick question (and get an equally fast answer) about the other party's golf game and then its on to business.

I am tempted to go on, but Tannen's book explains this topic so very thoroughly and is chock full of examples.

After reading her book, I was able to significantly improve the effectiveness of my communication with both sexes, and in my case, particularly with other men. The key for me was understanding (and then recognizing) that mens' communication is often inherently competitive regardless of the merits of the issue being discussed or negotiated.

Shortly after reading her book I was in a meeting where two high level managers were systematically demolishing junior staff presenting recommendations. I realized they were competing with one another to see who could demolish most destructively.

When I was part way through my presentation, their competition began again. At an appropriate point, I pulled out my wallet and dropped five twenties onto the conference room table. One of my peers at the table said if this was a bet, they'd bet with me. The higher level of the two managers said I'd presented enough, and my recommendation was approved.

I had bested them in just raw competitiveness.

Tannan's book also addresses methodolgies men can use to greatly facilitate communication with women.

A final plug... I'm in my late sixties and "You Don't Understand" is one of the most significant books I've ever read. Its an older book and very worthwhile.

Posted by: billsecure | October 15, 2010 8:39 PM
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Women are not the only sex that hates negotiating. It's a human trait in some, not feminine or masculine. Not everybody get the haggle gene.

Posted by: djmolter | October 15, 2010 8:34 PM
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Well then, I guess you're still woefully inadequate.

After all your singular-gender fixation and attention over the years, you still can't be something that you're not?

Imagine that.

Well I did a long time ago.

go get a tattoo and a harley - you'll feel real macho, and noone will say no.

See - even MEN don't get what they want until they get out the weapons and coerce others.

Is that your next step? Forcible compliance to your gender's wishes?

Maybe wish for something you can actually use.

Posted by: pgibson1 | October 15, 2010 6:34 PM
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The only times I've ever asked for a higher salary than was offered, I lost the opportunity. I'm just speculating here, but perhaps employers take less kindly to women asking for more money than men.

Posted by: Itzajob | October 15, 2010 5:23 PM
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The better question is In this day and age, why does anyone start a column with the words "why do women . . .?" or "why do men . . .?". I am a woman and i love negotiating! I know a lot of men who hate it. It is offensive to stereotype men or women in any particular way. I guess the answer to my rhetorical question is To sell books. This is a bunch of hogwash.

Posted by: Haasenpfeffer | October 15, 2010 5:16 PM
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"I find it extremely difficult to make a logical case regarding what I am worth. What is my true value? Who am I to say the offered salary is not "correct"? Salary negotiation seems more a test of one's ego and nerve...


Generally speaking, the first one to name a number loses. So you let them make you an offer, and THEN the salary negotiation begins.

It's not a question of 'true value', it's a starting point for market value. That can usually be found out pretty readily within your field, but it's often really tough to find out within your company.

Posted by: Skowronek | October 15, 2010 5:12 PM
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As a woman who was socialized to be acquiescent, I also wonder about evolutionary traits. Isn't there some feminist research (from Stanford?) that shows women are more likely in a stressful situation to focus on holding things together, strengthening community, "tending and befriending" in the language of the study, as opposed to the average male tendency to fight or flee? To some extent, assertive negotiation goes against our nature. Not that we're enslaved to our nature, but it takes extra effort to go beyond it.

Posted by: josefkhen | October 15, 2010 4:53 PM
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I like SKOWRONEK's comment regarding greater salary transparency.

Also, while the gender divide on the issue is generally true, there are plenty of males who find the concept of salary negotiation onerous as well.

I find it extremely difficult to make a logical case regarding what I am worth. What is my true value? Who am I to say the offered salary is not "correct"? Salary negotiation seems more a test of one's ego and nerve more than anything tangible, making the whole exercise something of a distasteful game, with the end result being financial rewards doled out to the most cynical (those who begin by assuming they will be "cheated" with their salary offer) or the most inflated-ego'd extroverts.

Posted by: kingpigeon | October 15, 2010 4:47 PM
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Women hate negotiating because they do not want to give up any of their demands. :>)

Posted by: observer1776 | October 15, 2010 4:17 PM
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It's not an innate gender thing, it's how many women have been socialized. You don't ask about money, it's 'not nice' to bargain for a raise, or a higher starting salary.

Not every woman is wired to believe that, nor are all of them taught to take the first offer.

But you know what? People tend to treat their salaries as great big deep dark secrets. I bet if more people in the same organization took a risk and compared salaries, more of them would get all energized to go ask for more. Particularly if you know how much the CEO has just earned in stock options.

Posted by: Skowronek | October 15, 2010 2:32 PM
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