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New Strategies for the Female Negotiator


Salary Negotiation
The second-wave of feminism of the 1960s and 70s produced a whole generation of women entering the work force inspired by a vision of equality they expected to achieve.   They were driven, motivated, smart, and hardworking.  They saw themselves as the women who would be the ones to break the glass ceiling.  But, for many, the glass ceiling is still there and people are beginning to ask why. 
There is no one easy answer, but there are many contributing elements.  We know, however, a significant factor is rooted in what happens when women negotiate.   We initially addressed this issue in 2008 in in our newsletter, The Female Negotiator. We drew upon the groundbreaking work of Linda Babcock and Sara Lavascher to outline the problem and offer suggestions. The goal of this newsletter is to build upon that earlier work, highlighting Linda Babcock’s most recent study, which offers research based strategies specifically for women that have been proven effective in salary negotiations. 

The Female Negotiator
In 2008, we described the real dilemma women face when approaching negotiations:  If they are not assertive, they are unable to get what they want, and if they are assertive, they incur social costs and could provoke retaliation. The work of Babcock and Lavascher was the first to point out that, as a result of this catch-22, women do not negotiate as often as men.  This is not a result of something innate in women; rather it is a consequence of how society punishes women who go out and advocate their own interests.  They have found women are eloquent and successful negotiators when they are doing it on behalf of someone else whether that be an employer, colleague, friend or family member, however, when it comes to asking for the promotion, raise, or higher starting salary, they shy away.  And this is one of the factors that has resulted in workplace gender imbalances. 
We outlined several strategies to help women address this Catch-22 and presented the recommendations from Babcock’s and Lavascher’s book.   We have provided an abridged version of the recommendations below:

Earlier Suggestions

  • Reflect upon your strengths and improvement opportunities, as well as previous negotiations.  What went well/poorly and why?  Think about whether gender played a role. 
  • Understand the culture of your organization and whether gender has had an impact. 
  • Seek out mentors from women who have been successful in dealing with gender-specific issues.
  • Look for training opportunities for developing your negotiation skills which provide strategies for dealing with gender-specific issues. 

Babcock’s and Lavascher’s Recommendations:

  • Don’t try to negotiate like a man, but definitely ask for what you want in your own way.
  • Start thinking about negotiation differently.  This means assume that most things are negotiable and look at it as an opportunity to benefit everyone. 

New Evidence
Since the earlier newsletter, Linda Babcock, has published the results of a recent study looking at salary negotiation:  How Can Women Escape the Compensation Negotiation Dilemma?  Relational Accounts Are One Answer. Babcock, and co-author Bowles, set out to test strategies for women negotiating for higher pay.  They found when female negotiators frame their requests in the context of a relational account, they are able to avoid social backlash and obtain a higher salary at the same time.
First, what is a relational account?  In the context of this study, a relational account is when the female negotiator attributes her request for higher wages to someone else. 
Here are the study’s conclusions:

Strategies that Work:
Someone Else Told Me to Do It
The excuse, so-and-so told me to do it, never got me out of trouble as a kid.  However, with a little tweaking, it can help a female negotiator get the desired salary while maintaining her professional relationships. The study found if the female negotiator framed her request for a better salary as a recommendation given to her from her supervisor, test participants were much more enthusiastic to both work with her and pay her more. It is not her fault she’s asking for more money and an end-of-year bonus, her manager told her to do it. 
Example:  My team leader told me there is a range in terms of how much managers are paid in their first placement.  He thought I should ask to be paid at the top of that range and to explain that I would also like to be eligible for an end-of-year bonus. 
I’m doing it for you
Sometimes, there is just not someone else telling you to get up and go for that higher salary.  An alternative approach is framing the negotiation in the context of skills that you are bringing to the job.  It is reinventing the negotiation as a demonstration of the skills and talents you will be bringing to your new position.  In other words, the female negotiator is saying to their potential employer:  I’m doing this to show you I will be a great organizational asset.
Example:  I don’t know how typical it is for people at my level to negotiate, but I’m hopeful that you’ll see my skill at negotiating as something important that I bring to the job. 

Strategies that Did Not Work:
The External Job-Offer Strategy
Often, it is considered a strong approach to legitimize salary requests by mentioning an outside job offer.  This study tested this approach and found that while it was effective for men, it was not for women.  When using this strategy, women fared better as far as the salary negotiations went, but they suffered social losses.  Study participants reported that they were less willing to work with the women who adopted this approach.  In real life situations, this could have far reaching consequences down the line for professional development.  It could mean not being chosen to work on choice projects and not moving up.    
I Care About You
Another strategy was showing concern for relationships with colleagues and the organization before requesting the salary negotiation.   Women who adopted this strategy in the study fared better socially, but were less likely to have their salary requests met.  In this strategy, female negotiators emphasized the importance of their working relationships to and within the organization.  However, while caring is nice, and might make you a lot of office friends, it’s not enough to break that glass ceiling. 

The findings of the study are somewhat controversial in that the strategies that worked both involve conforming, at least a little but, to an unjust social standard.  In both successful cases, the female negotiator had to reposition the negotiation in a way that meant she was not necessarily negotiating for herself; rather, she was doing it for someone else.  While it is unfair, this is reality, reducing the wage gap ultimately help this needed change come about.  This study is highly significant for two reasons:

  1. It offers applicable strategies that will help women work effectively for their own fiscal and professional interests. 
  2. It shows that women do not need to choose between being liked and negotiation outcomes.   There is a middle path.

To the female negotiators, we would like to hear your stories!  Do the findings of this article resonate with your experiences?  And what strategies have you employed to negotiate successfully and feel liked?  To the male negotiators, we want to hear your stories and feedback too!  Do you see gender playing a role in how you react to your negotiating counterpart?  Please share with us.
The study referred to is:  How Can Women Escape the Compensation Negotiation Dilemma?  Relational Accounts Are One Answer by Hannah Riley Bowles and Linda Babcock and taken from Psychology of Women Quarterly 37(1) 80-96. 
Here is link to the study if you would like to read it in its totality:
See Linda Babcock and Hannah Riley Bowles interviewed on an American television. The link is To enjoy the video you will have to watch a brief commercial.

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