Does Gender Matter in Negotiating?

Ask yourself this: Could I be getting less of what I want because I’m a woman? What role does gender play in maximizing whatever it is that I negotiate for—money, time, benefits, and responsibilities?

Gender stereotypes permeate our lives. We continue to be told that men should be strong, resilient, and aggressive, while the archetypal woman is nurturing, sensitive, and collaborative.

If you’re like many women who behave according to expectations—those of others and your own—you are most definitely shortchanging yourself. Why? Because women are not negotiating as often or asking for as much as their male counterparts. Here are some key reasons why:

1) Women see fewer opportunities
Starting a new job, assuming more responsibilities at work, asking for a raise—these are milestones in which anyone can envision trying to maximize resources. But there are myriad other ways to enhance your professional life by asserting yourself—by asking to be involved in high-impact assignments, for example—and women often overlook them. Removing these opportunity blind spots can change the trajectory of your career.

2) Women believe they’re less entitled
There are documented gaps in what resources have been allocated to men versus women. For example, 40 percent of all U.S. businesses are woman-owned, but they receive only 2.3 percent of available equity capital needed for growth. A history of inequality and women’s own limiting beliefs have fostered an environment where female professionals feel less entitled to resources, thereby perpetuating inequality.

3) Women approach negotiation with more anxiety
Studies have shown that men have a very different view of negotiation, likening it to a contest or a game. This approach is both opportunistic and optimistic. On the other hand, women have compared such discussions to dental work. They have a lower comfort level, report elevated anxiety, and have a tendency to back down from negotiations, often settling for receiving recognition for their great work. When they do muster the courage to ask, they request 15 to 30 percent less than their male counterparts.

4) Women suffer negative social consequences
From girlhood, women are socialized to be likable. Many have been raised in an environment that reinforces the idea that they care for others and rewards nonaggressive behavior. Achieving likability has its advantages, but at the bargaining table, it often dissuades women from pursuing optimal outcomes for themselves.

Negotiation is 80 percent preparation, 20 percent discussion. Start by believing that you deserve what you seek. Conduct some competitive analysis and know your market worth. Examine the big picture to find areas that can be maximized, and view almost any element of your job as rightfully negotiable. Decrease your anxiety by practicing and by thinking of negotiation as creative problem solving—something you know you do well. If you have to choose between being liked and respected, choose being respected—and the love will follow.
More on negotiation tactics in the next column! DW

M. J. Tocci is director of Heinz College’s Negotiation Academy for Women at Carnegie Mellon University;

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