Women Don’t Ask, But They Should

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

In the book Women Don’t Ask (Princeton University Press), author Linda Babcock discusses the reasons women don’t negotiate as much as men do. It isn’t that women don’t have negotiation skills. Many women who have no problem making multi-million dollar deals on behalf of their companies won’t do the same for themselves.

The cost to women who don’t negotiate can be huge. If, at age 22, a man and a woman receive identical job offers, but the man negotiates a $5,000 salary hike, assuming they receive identical three percent raises annually and work for the same amount of time, by retirement, he’ll make half a million dollars more than the woman. This is called “accumulation of disadvantage.”

Even worse, the consequences for non-negotiation can be more than financial. In one instance I read about, a woman received a job offer but was afraid to ask for more money because she wanted to make a good first impression. She got the job at the original salary, but found out later that the company almost changed its mind because her acceptance of their offer made them wonder if she was assertive enough for the position.

Also, many women who don’t ask for promotions never get them. They wait, thinking that their boss will hand them a raise and/or more responsibility, but often get passed over in favor of someone less qualified because the other person stuck a foot in the door.

So why don’t they ask? If women see a situation that could turn to their advantage, what’s stopping them from speaking up?

There are a few possible reasons:

  • Believing that circumstances are controlled by others rather than yourself
  • Believing that you should accept what you’re given
  • Thinking that hard work alone will get you noticed and get you ahead
  • Following gender-based rules about when it’s acceptable to speak up
  • Expecting less than men
  • Undervaluing your own work
  • Comparing yourself to the wrong people
  • Assuming things are not negotiable when they really are

Of course, men are not always stellar negotiators, and there are plenty of women who aren’t afraid to ask for what they want. But they are in the minority. Most of the factors listed above that stop people from negotiating are correlated by gender. Men are more likely to believe they need to ask for improvement in their circumstances than women. Women are more likely to be so grateful for what they have that they’re afraid to damage relationships by asking for more. And so on.

Here’s an experiment that might increase women’s incentive to ask a little more. Students at the Kellogg School of Management had an assignment to negotiate something in the real world. Some negotiated something for themselves (such as a salary, an apartment rental fee, or a purchase of an antique) while others negotiated for an employer (such as a contract or work agreement). They saved a median amount of $2,200 by negotiating for themselves, or $390,000 by negotiating for their employer. Some saved more.

When these students were asked their most important negotiation technique, their number one answer was that they chose to negotiate.

I don’t have to be a financial whiz or genius number-cruncher in order to ask for what I want. All I have to do is decide to ask.



This guest blog has been provided by Kaylie Astin, founder of Family Friendly Work, for the Women’s Business Center.