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Negotiation: Differences In Men and Women

Examining the difference between how men and women negotiate salaries. Male or female, in any negotiation the key is to be fully prepared!
(4 min 21 sec read)

Lori Denman-Underhill
Lori Denman-Underhill uses the power of the press to raise awareness about endless causes.

Regarding the subject of negotiation, we are going to address the issue of how men and women fare in negotiating salaries.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the equity gap; it’s the disparity in pay between men and women who perform the same tasks or hold equivalent jobs. One recent study claims that when women negotiate salary on behalf of themselves, they tend to ask for and receive lower rates than men. This means that a woman who doesn’t value her skills highly enough can start off with a gap of her own making. But if she does her homework, knows the salary range of the men doing the same job, and puts forth her qualifications, there is no reason why she can’t successfully negotiate for what she deserves.

Negotiation outcomes may also vary based on external factors. In her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg discusses the positive correlation for men between success and likability and the negative correlation for women. In the context of negotiations, this means that men are rewarded for negotiating hard for themselves in the workplace, while women are not. I have found that to be true in my own life.

Sandberg also writes, “The goal of successful negotiation is to achieve our objectives and continue to have people like us” (emphasis mine). I disagree with the latter part of that statement. Most men don’t think that way, so why should women? Negotiation is not a popularity contest. Yes, transformative negotiation may succeed or fail depending on the connections you develop with your partner, so it would be useful to maintain a cordial relationship after the deal is done. And I’m certainly not advocating that you negotiate with the intent of hurting others’ feelings or making enemies. But women shouldn’t have to apologize for negotiating a higher salary or worry about whether people will like them when they succeed.

There are many studies about gender stereotyping. One recent theory suggests that when negotiators view their female negotiation partners as less competent, they are more likely to mislead them. As we have seen, stereotyping of any kind is dangerous in negotiations, but this particular data, if validated, means that women are at a significant negotiating disadvantage. In a 2014 paper, professor Laura J. Kray and colleagues conclude that in buyer-seller settings, female negotiators are deceived more often than men, and conversely, male negotiators who hold these stereotypic views act less ethically in negotiations.

Gender bias (or any other heuristic) should not be used to prevent us from exercising our inherent skills as transformative negotiators. Any personal attribute can be—or can be transformed into—an asset. In negotiations, innate feminine attributes can contribute to a successful outcome, so can innate masculine attributes.

Here’s a perfect illustration taken from a New Yorker magazine blog of what one person calls gender bias and I call overreaching. Applying for a position at a college, W. (female negotiator) countered on an offer of employment with the following terms: higher salary, paid maternity leave for one semester, pre-tenure sabbatical, cap on the number of new classes she would teach each semester and deferred start date. W. acknowledged her overreach but didn’t see the harm in asking. Wrong. The college withdrew their offer, stating that they believed she would be better off teaching at a research university than at their smaller, student-centered college.

Was this the result of gender bias? I suppose one way to know would be if a man had made the same proposal (with paid paternity leave) and had been similarly rejected. What W.’s counteroffer tells me, however, is that she didn’t know her negotiating partner well enough. We’ve learned how important it is as a negotiator to view your terms from your partner’s perspective. The college may have felt that W. was unwilling to do the work expected of new faculty or to put students first, properly justifying their rejection on something other than gender bias grounds.

If she needed more family time or better work-life balance (paid maternity leave), I expect W. to have reviewed the college’s policies to see if they meshed with those needs. If they didn’t, W. probably shouldn’t have applied in the first place. If they did, she wouldn’t have had to ask.

The point is, male or female, in any negotiation the key is to be fully prepared. There are countless examples of prominent women enjoying success in negotiations. Here’s one that highlights how a strong female leader/diplomat/negotiator might see and shape the world differently than her male counterpart.

Here we have the essentials of transformative negotiation: negotiating with partners rather than dictating to them. Looking for and working toward shared goals and common solutions. And perhaps most important, getting what you want by helping your negotiation partner get what he or she wants as well. Women and men may have different brains, different ways of communicating and, sometimes, different approaches to negotiation. But the gender gap isn’t—or, at least, doesn’t have to be—a barrier to negotiation success. Observe the differences and adjust. A transformative negotiator, whether male or female, understands the value of connection and collaboration and focuses on bridging gaps rather than widening them.

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