Over the course of her working life, a professional woman makes approximately $1 million less than her male counterpart. According to a study conducted by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, women need a Doctoral or Professional degree to make more than men with a Bachelor’s degree.

Gender Gap

The Wage Gap – Who Is To Blame?

Often part of the responsibility for this persistent wage gap is put on women’s shoulders. Women are told over and over again that one of the reasons they are paid less is that they do not negotiate their salaries while their male peers do.

Lisa Babcock, author of Women Don’t Ask, an in-depth look into how gender politics impact professional negotiations, writes, “By avoiding negotiation, women sacrifice more than money. They also sacrifice visibility, training, and career growth.”

Why Women Don’t Negotiate

However, Joan C. Williams, law professor and founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law, believes that women have a valid reason for avoiding negotiating. They know they’ll be penalized for it. In a blog for the Huffington Post, Williams writes:

“Women don’t negotiate because they’re not idiots. They sense a startlingly traditionalist substrata: that men are entitled to be ‘hard-driving,’ but women are not.”

Studies conducted by Babcock have found that both men and women penalize women who negotiate for a higher salary. As Shankar Vedantam from the Washington Post writes:

“Although it may well be true that women often hurt themselves by not trying to negotiate, women’s reluctance is based on an entirely reasonable and accurate view of how they were likely to be treated if they did.”

Women Are Good Negotiators – Just Not for Themselves

How gender stereotypes enter into the negotiating process is interestingly examined in a 2011 study conducted by Michael Morris, of Columbia Business School, and Emily Amanatullah, of the McCombs School of Business of the University of Texas at Austin.

According to the study’s press release, “test subjects were randomly assigned to one of two negotiation roles: one in which they advocated for themselves, and one in which they served as an agent, bargaining for a colleague.” What the study found is that women are great negotiators, just not for themselves. When women were fighting for their own salaries, they opened with significantly lower counteroffers than when they were negotiating for a friend.

This is in part because women did not feel that they would be perceived as being too pushy or overly assertive when they were fighting for someone else besides themselves. The authors of the study write that women do well when bargaining on behalf of others because the negotiating takes place in “a context where assertive negotiation reads as caring and therefore consistent with the feminine gender role.”

Reframe the Negotiation

In order for women to negotiate effectively in a way that they will both get the salary they want while making a positive impression, Professor Amanatullah advises women to couch their own interests in the larger interests of their company and/or their team. She states:

“The present study results suggest a different remedy than training female negotiators to behave assertively. Training programs should focus coaching on role shifting. It may be fruitful to teach female negotiators how to reframe self–advocacy negotiations as situations of other–advocacy.”

Hannah Riley Bowles, Associate Professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, agrees. She writes that women must frame their salary “request in a manner that also signals your genuine concern for your company and your relationships with colleagues.”

In order to demonstrate her point, Bowles shared an illustrative anecdote:

“A senior executive recently recounted to me what happened when she found out for the second time that a male subordinate was being paid more than she was. She approached her superiors as if she were pointing out a mistake that she was confident they would want to resolve. ‘I know that the company would not want a subordinate to be paid more than a supervisor,’ she said. ‘I’m sure you agree that we should correct this.’ She got her raise.”

When I interviewed Maliz Beams, CEO of ING Retirement and one of the most influential women in the highly competitive retirement industry, she echoed this sentiment. She said that women must ask, but how you ask will determine if you get what you want. She told me, “You have to ask in the ‘right way’, in a sophisticated way, in a fact-based way, that continues to build organizational trust in the relationship.”

I think it’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard.

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