Researchers from London’s Cass Business School and the universities of Warwick and Wisconsin announced on Monday to great fanfare that women in their 20s and 30s negotiate for salary increases just as often as their male peers do. Although this finding directly contradicts a substantial body of well-vetted research (this new study has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal), and close examination of the data reveals conflicting results that are sure to be debated in academic circles, it’s hard not to want this to be true. If younger women have more confidence than women over 40 when it comes to asking for more money, we should all celebrate.
The research raises a few red flags, though. Using data collected from 800 companies by the Australian government in 2013–2014, the paper’s authors, Benjamin Artz, Amanda H Goodall, and Andrew J Oswald, contend that they’ve discredited the standard explanation for women’s reluctance to negotiate, which they describe as fear of damaging the quality of their relationships at work. Taking aim at the research of Carnegie-Mellon economist Linda Babcock and the book she and I wrote together, Women Don’t Ask, they claim to have disproven our central thesis. By showing that women try to negotiate as frequently as men do, they boast that they’ve absolved women of the charge (presumably made by us) that they contribute to their own wage gap.
But fear of damaging relationships is only one of several barriers identified in Babcock’s research and described in Women Don’t Ask. Blaming women never figured in our analysis. Instead, we clearly demonstrated that women’s reluctance to ask was a learned behaviour – rather than an intrinsic quality, as this new paper claims – and we explored in depth the powerful social forces that put roadblocks in women’s way. Women’s reluctance to negotiate was never attributed to weak will or a failure of nerve.
Babcock’s research identified another significant cause for this difference between men and women, which she dubbed opportunity recognition. Women don’t negotiate for themselves as often as men do, Babcock found, because they don’t always recognise opportunities to negotiate. They assume that salaries follow a fixed schedule; they expect to be treated fairly without needing to hustle; or they imagine they’ll be rewarded for good work without having to ask. Women also typically don’t belong to the insider networks in which men share a lot of information about what’s available.
Women don’t negotiate as much as men do, in other words, because they don’t know that they can negotiate and often have less information about what they could be asking for. The data from Australia, although it looks narrowly at salary negotiations (and only at negotiations within an existing job, not negotiations for a new job), seems to bear this out. While the women and men polled worked for the same 800 employers, far more women than men reported that pay was not negotiable in their jobs. Although it’s possible that a higher percentage of women were employed in jobs with fixed salaries, it also seems likely that many women wrongly assumed they could not negotiate. They didn’t hesitate to ask for more money because they feared damaging a relationship, but because they believed – inaccurately – that negotiation wasn’t possible.
Men are more likely than women to ask to be assigned to prestige projects, high-profile teams and high-value accounts
Still, assuming that younger women are negotiating for pay increases more frequently than older women (even if not at equivalent rates to men), how do we explain the obduracy of substantial wage disparities? The Artz, Goodall, and Oswald research provides one clue. Men in their selected sample were 25% more likely than women to get a raise when they asked. Women who asked for raises were often turned down. This is not a surprise. As a society we don’t like women we deem to be too aggressive, and we see negotiation as an aggressive act, meaning women routinely encounter more resistance when they do ask. Both men and women expect women to concede more and accept less in a negotiation.
But there’s more. Artz, Goodall, and Oswald’s narrow focus on salary negotiations presents a distorted picture of women’s challenges when it comes to negotiating. Negotiating for more money may lead the list of asks with which women struggle, but it’s far from the only one. Babcock’s research and my interviews with women revealed that the proscription against women negotiating for themselves discourages them from asking for many other things that can heavily impact their success. Men are more likely than women to ask to be assigned to prestige projects, high-profile teams and high-value accounts, for example. They’re more likely to ask to be promoted when they feel they’re ready and more likely to ask for additional training or a chance to improve their skills or expand their networks. They’re more likely to ask for the support of a mentor or sponsor, and in fields where referrals are necessary to build a practice, they’re more likely to ask for referrals. All of this can widen the gap between men’s and women’s earnings.
Where do we go from here? Women can learn to negotiate in ways that don’t seem threatening or too aggressive (this can help), but this is another fix the woman solution that can only take us so far. A true fix to this problem must be driven by employers themselves. Fortunately, there’s reason for hope. Failing to bring women’s salaries and access to opportunity in line with men’s will start to get very expensive in the near future. Broad demographic shifts make this an absolute certainty. All over the world, women are earning far more undergraduate and advanced degrees than men, meaning that women will shortly dominate the educated workforce. To remain competitive, organisations that depend on educated workers will need to find ways to take advantage of this rich pool of talent. Doing so will require a lot more than posting a help wanted sign. It will require re-engineering corporate culture. It will require persuading leaders at all levels – from junior managers to top executives – of the need for change.
Women may be getting better at asking for more. Employers need to realise that it’s in their own best interests to give it to them.
News Source TheGuardianNews