It is by now pretty common knowledge that women typically do not negotiate as hard as men. Women will go at least one round less in a multi-round negotiation or often, as is the case for many graduates, accept the first offer given to them out of school whereas their male colleagues often do not.
Experts have given many explanations for this difference in male and female behavior but Linda Babcock and a fellow researcher from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Hannah Riley Bowles, proved 10 years ago what Sheryl Sandberg is asserting as the leading inhibitor to women’s success in her recent book Lean In. It all boils down to one critical element – we like women less when they are assertive. And I say we because regardless if the negotiator on the other side of the table is a man or a woman we will more often than not penalize a woman who asks for raise or a promotion from a reputation perspective as someone who is difficult to work with and we do nothing of the kind when it comes to men.
As women, we know that instinctively, we feel it. As a result, many of us downplay our successes and either don’t ask or ask so timidly that we get a no. This is a double standard. It is unfair and is a true barrier to progress that we shouldn’t have to work around. But it is a fact of life. So how do we approach it?
Linda Babcock and Hannah Riley Bowles recently published a new study in the Psychology of Women Quarterly addressing how women can address this issue effectively. The researchers had observers rate the likeability of the employee after watching him or her negotiate using several different scripts that reflected different negotiation strategies or tactics. What they found was that when the women positioned the increase or even the act of asking as something that was in the company’s best interest- for example, “I thought long and hard about asking for this increase but I have accomplished all that was asked and more. In addition you just asked me to take on these added responsibilities which include a lot of external negotiation- So I was sure that you would be pleased to see that I was someone who could be proactive about negotiation.” – she not only was more likely to get her increase but she also did not suffer from the negative reputational impact. Here the employee couches her ask in terms that make her action relevant to the best interest of the company.
So, when you ask for your raise, obviously make your case outlining your accomplishments- but also position that act of asking in a way that relates it to the best interest of the company. As another example, you could easily supplant the phrase above “So I was sure that you would be please to see that I was someone who could be proactive about negotiation.” with “So I was sure you would be pleased to see I was someone comfortable asking for more” if, for example, you recently took on a project to raise customer rates. You may not get the answer you want the first time but you have to ask- and keep asking. You have an obligation to yourself to get paid what you deserve. And I dare say we all have a responsibility to break down the stereotype and pave the way for all women to get what they deserve. Don’t we?