If you have XX chromosomes, chances are you stink at negotiating. Women are far less likely to ask for a higher starting salary when taking a job, far less likely to ask for a raise and if we do request a pay bump, women ask for far less than men do, according to Sara Laschever an expert on the topic and co-author of Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation—and Positive Strategies for Change.
“There is a direct correlation between what you ask for and what you get,” Laschever says, adding, “Women have never negotiated enough for their pay, and a large proportion don’t negotiate at all. They just say, ‘Thank you!’ when they’re offered a job, so they start out lower.”
The topic is an interesting and emotion-provoking one. On one hand, I find it empowering that there is such a direct link between asking and getting. If all it takes is a request, there is hope, right? And if women are the ones sabotaging themselves by not demanding reasonable pay—opposed to men stonewalling them—then the problem is certainly easy to correct, no? But in my discussion with Laschever, it is clear the equation is not so simple.
So what is going on? Why are we like this?
Like a lot of things, it comes down to how we were socialized as children. We teach little girls to be nice, sweet-tempered and compliant, and we teach little boys to be aggressive go-getters. Girls and women are taught to be more communal and focus on the needs of the group, while boys and men are encouraged to be more self-promoting and look after their own needs and interests. A look at childhood chores illustrates this: Girls are asked to help look after younger siblings and do housework, which is for the greater good of the family. Meanwhile, boys are asked to do singular tasks like shovel the walk or mow the lawn, which requires setting a specific goal and accomplishing it. Also, parents are more likely to pay for those chores opposed to those more commonly done by girls.
Plus, it’s still a hangover from when women weren’t supposed to have jobs, so when we do get one we’re like, “Oh, I get to have a career? Thank you!”
So how does this play out in adulthood?
Women are heavily socialized to protect relationships. They worry that if the economy is bad, their boss can’t afford to pay us more, or they worry that the meat of the negotiation reflects a conflict between the negotiators—it’s not just business. So they don’t ask.
Why is that? Why can’t women separate the business from the personal?
The personal is our domain. And it is not completely unrealistic to worry that negotiating for more money could damage the relationship—studies show that there is a gender difference when it comes to what is perceived as acceptable behavior. And women do get more push-back than men. Neither men nor women like what they consider to be aggressive behavior in a woman—and negotiating by a woman is perceived by many people of both sexes as aggressive behavior. For a woman to be influential and persuasive, she has to be likable.
Does that mean we should flirt?
Flirting is not such a great tactic. It might get you what you want in that moment, but they will only like you in the short-term. In the long-term they will not see you as independently objective or competent. You want to be warm and likable, not kittenish. It is a pretty narrow tightrope you have to walk.
That really pisses me off!
It pisses everyone off. A lot of women say, “I’m not going to do that; it is taking a step backward.” Which is reasonable, but the research shows what works. If you use your social skills and go a little easier on the interpersonal dynamics, the negotiating experience is more pleasant for everyone and you come out with a relationship that is enhanced rather than strained. Plus, as more women do this, and get into more senior roles, they can have more impact on how women are compensated and how the negotiation process goes.
But isn’t business trending toward this kind of softer negotiation anyway?
There’s a joke among people who teach negotiation courses that the point of the course is to teach everyone to negotiate like a woman—to teach everyone to talk and find out what is important to the other party. Recent research shows that win-win and collaborative agreements have better outcomes for both sides, rather than the old zero-sum approach. The problem is that a lot of people in the very senior positions are these really old guys with the devil-take-the-high-most approach who didn’t even notice they were bullying people and damaging relationships. That is why the “let’s just talk as girls” attitude can be a great approach.
Tell me exactly what to say. Let’s say an old fogey just offered me a job.
First flatter them, then ask for exactly what you want. You could say, “Thank you so much for this opportunity. I am so excited to be working for this company on such interesting work. However, it would make it a lot easier for me if you could bump up the salary to X.” Or ask for things like a certain city where you’d like to relocate or a flexible work schedule. Then suggest they think about it and that you’ll follow up the next day, so they’re not caught up in the moment.
What about asking for a raise?
You need to go in prepared with data, like compensation information from Salary.com or a professional organization. But again, start with a compliment. “I love working here, this is a great company and I feel I’m contributing more than when I was hired, thanks to how much I’ve grown under your guidance. I hope my compensation can reflect what I bring to the job right now.” Then reference what others in your position are getting or, better yet, what your firm’s competitors pay.
It sounds so easy to ask for and get what you want. Is it women’s fault that we’re paid less than men?
I would categorically say no, it is not our fault. Women get more push-back, and there is both outright and subtle discrimination against women—even by people who don’t believe they’re prejudiced against women. But you must value yourself before others value you. In our society there is the perception that things that cost more money are more valuable—a $40 bottle of wine is believed to be better than a $15 of wine, even if that is not always true. The same goes for employees.
This story originally appeared on RetailMeNot.