Research from McKinsey & Company documents that women ask for raises and promotions at the same rate as men ― but don’t receive them as often. Women are also less likely to push past an initial no and further negotiate to get what they want.
Mastering the art of negotiation is an important skill that can help you not only get paid what you’re worth, but also empower you to ask for – and get – key projects, promotions and both professional and personal arrangements that support your success. The skill is perhaps even more critical for women of color who, on average, already earn less than white peers. The approach of Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, to be recognized September 21, 2022, is a stark reminder that fair pay can never be assumed.
In their book, Ask For It
, Carnegie Mellon University Economics Professor Linda Babcock, Ph.D., and journalist Sara Laschever, demonstrate how less frequent use of negotiation can become a key obstacle to women’s career progress. They teach a four-phase system to help women get more of what they deserve.
Walking the tightrope
In extensive research into how much (or how little) women negotiate for positions, salary and raises, Babcock finds that men and women tend to use similar approaches, but that women are much less likely to do it. “Men are just more likely to spontaneously initiate a negotiation when they want something about their world to be changed,” she says. “Women are more likely to accept the status quo, even if they’re not happy about it or, perhaps, wait for someone to offer them what it is that they want.”
McKinsey also finds that the problem isn’t always that women are not willing to negotiate or that they don’t know how, but rather that they can be penalized for the same behaviors that are rewarded in men. What is often labeled as women’s lack of confidence in their own abilities can often more accurately be described as their lack of confidence in the ability of their organizations
to recognize and reward them in the same way they do male peers.
While Babcock and others are clear that these issues must be remedied by organizations, individual women can also benefit by increasing their willingness and ability to negotiate far more frequently. Babcock feels so strongly about women’s need to develop their negotiation skills that she partnered with Girl Scouts USA to create a negotiation badge called Win-Win: How to Get What You Want.
Make negotiation a habit
In Ask For It
, Laschever and Babcock outline four steps women can use to build their ability to negotiate and overcome society’s expectations for how women get what they want. They are:
- Know that everything is negotiable. Because they may be less in the habit of asking for what they want, women sometimes need encouragement to first figure out what that is and then assess whether they are being treated fairly, rather than waiting for others to act on their behalf.
- Lay the Groundwork. Before any negotiation, do your homework. Research what others make in similar roles and what you might earn in other organizations. While the research shows that women may be less motivated than men by a sense of competition to out-earn the next person, and are socialized to not want to appear greedy, Babcock and Laschever caution that not negotiating your salary at your first job can cost women as much as $1.5 million over the course of a career.
“If you’re not being paid what you’re worth, you communicate inaccurate information about what capabilities you have,” Babcock adds. When two job candidates look the same on paper in terms of skills and experience, but one earns significantly more, it’s easy to assume that person will be the superior performer.
- Get Ready. Negotiating can feel combative and many people dread it. Having strong data at your fingertips will help, but you may also need to role play with a friend or trusted mentor so you can work through push-back and develop wording that helps you keep your cool and stay on track. A softer approach can also yield better results.
“We’ve seen that when women ask in a somewhat softer way, making more eye contact, using relaxed, friendly body language, and smiling, that they are able to be a little tougher on the issues, tougher about what they’re aiming for and what they want,” Babcock explains. “So, the message isn’t, don’t ask because you’ll be penalized, don’t ask because no matter how you ask you’ll be perceived as boasting and that will make you be seen as less likeable, the message is learn to ask in a way that people can hear.”
Almost cringing at her own advice, Babcock is quick to point out that this issue is a socially created problem and not reflective of a weakness in women. The authors strongly encourage all leaders, male and female, to celebrate women who ask for what they want and to mentor women to do so in the workplace.
- Put It All Together. How you behave in the workplace and your ability to demonstrate competence and confidence through ongoing impression management also helps set the stage for those moments when you do step up to ask for what you deserve.
Interestingly, research shows that when women negotiate on behalf of others, they perform extremely well. It’s when women ask for something for themselves that they are more likely to struggle. As you prepare to negotiate, it may help to imagine your daughter or another young woman in your life and see yourself not only blazing a trail for what you deserve, but for the cause of gender equity writ large.