Women Don’t Ask: Notes from an inspiring presentation

On March 10, 2010, the Women’s Center at Northwestern University invited Sarah Laschever to deliver a presentation called “Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide.” As you know, ALA-APA supports better salaries and is interested in publications and people who can help improve the pay situation for people in our field. Although much of what is written about women and negotiation takes examples from corporate settings, the feelings, skills and circumstances that surround the practice of negotiation are the same. These notes are from Laschever’s talk.

Also, please note that the research, statistics and comments are generalizations for the genders, but you are encouraged to personalize and/or react to them. You may also want to challenge or nod to how these arguments and suggestions manifest in a predominantly female profession that documents pay inequities outside, in comparison to other professions, and within. It may seem odd to talk about negotiation in a time when many people are grateful to even have a job, but take it as hope that you will find the job of your dreams and be able to ask. Also realize that there are things to ask for almost every day, in our professional and personal lives. We are all engaged in negotiation more than we think.

Sarah Laschever and Linda Babcock came to a similar conclusion as Evelyn Murphy and others: women are being paid less, and it’s time for us to ask for what we deserve. Laschever and Babcock sifted through research on negotiation and found strategies, but very little on the motivations. There were simulations and cases about negotiation strategies, but they could not find studies about who negotiates and why they negotiate in absence of a controlled scenario. What they did find was that women negotiate very well on behalf of others, while men negotiate well for themselves, and did so four times as often in the negotiation scenarios. [ALA-APA includes research and real cases in its Better Salaries and Pay Equity Toolkit.]

The impetus for the books Women Don’t Ask and Ask for It was the stories of women in academia and business who did not receive the same workplace advantages as their male counterparts: promotions, higher lab budgets, raises, nominations, funding, travel money, high-profile accounts, referrals, training and more. In each instance, when the woman asked the employer/administrator, the answer was, “You didn’t ask.” These women expected their skills and accomplishments to speak for them, but they did not. Women have to speak for themselves. Those in positions of power are often pre-occupied and unaware of what you have achieved. [Readers: Skip to the end if you want to know how to negotiate! The middle of this article is why you don’t negotiate already.]

Laschever said five minutes at the beginning of your career can make a huge difference. Neglecting that five minutes of questioning, and countering, an offer can cost an employee thousands to more than a million dollars over the life of his or her career. Compare the cases of two new college graduates entering the job market. Graduate A accepts $25,000 at the beginning of her career; Graduate B $30,000. If the person who received $5000 more for the same position invested that $5000 each year, at 3 percent interest, and received 3% average increases (the good old days for some of us), he would have $784,000 at age 65, just from that extra $5000. A 40-year old who accepts $70,000 instead of the $77,000 that was possible would forfeit an investment amounting to $381,000 in 25 years. In her WAGE training courses, Evelyn Murphy encourages women to shout, “I want my million dollars!”

The wage gap between average salaries for men and women continues to be 22 to 25 cents, more for most women of color (there is a gap for Asian women but it is about 9 cents). This means for every dollar a man earns, a woman earns 75 to 78 cents. Despite statistical and anecdotal data even within librarianship, women are still hesitant to ask.

Why don’t women ask?

There are many reasons for this reluctance. Laschever points to socialization, and cited research showing that babies with pink hats are treated and talked about differently than babies with blue hats, regardless of the baby’s actual gender. The hats were visual cues that informed nurses about who needed attention more quickly (pink) and who could handle waiting because they were tough (blue). There are studies showing that boys in classrooms raise their hands more even when they don’t know the answers. Boys are given more goal-setting and self-starter toys (blocks, trucks) while girls are given toys that simulate service (cooking, dishwashing, ironing, waitressing). From the beginning, it can be argued, girls work for love and boys work for pay. Laschever talks about how girls she knows who babysit are asked how much they want to earn and they tell the employer, “Whatever you think is fair.” Imagine if those young babysitters listed their skill sets and knew the worth of the work they are providing! Imagine if they set their own price based on their value? These early lessons teach girls that being forthright and direct are “male” traits; being liked is a “female” trait.

Women are often absent from networks where they would learn about opportunities, or even what their male colleagues earn in salaries, benefits and perks. Powerful people tell their circles what’s available, who to talk to, who to ask for guidance and when to ask for something. This is not just a corporate phenomenon. People talk to people like themselves. It follows that to be successful, you must find ways to become part of those (formal and informal) networks that hold access to your potential future. If you do not take initiative, it might never occur to those in high positions that you might be interested.

Women have different feelings about negotiation. Men associated “negotiation” with the words “fun,” “win” and “game,” while women associated it with “scary,” or likened negotiation to a dentist visit. Laschever gives us good news, though. Not being able to negotiate is not a genetic disorder. It can be changed.

Tips for When You Negotiate, Or Overcoming Your Negotiation Disability

  1. Don’t accept the status quo. Assume everything is negotiable. Men are often taught to think of the world as their oyster, full of options, but women too often think of the world as a turnip—as in, “you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip.”
  2. Ask. And ask for enough – not just enough to get by.
  3. Talk to both men and women about salaries, and compare their answers. Women often discuss appropriate salaries in terms of what they have done, while men discuss salaries in terms of their potential.
  4. Understand the context under which you are making a request. Murphy notes that timing is everything.
  5. Make sure you are being treated fairly—look at industry salary surveys and talk to colleagues.
  6. Recognize the sources of your bargaining power—education, skills, flexibility, social skills, experience and any other offers you have. Even being a woman can give you leverage.
  7. Building on #6, negotiate when you’re up for a promotion or during a performance review. You are expensive to replace—recruiting can cost your employer up to 150% of your current salary.
  8. Remember that you have valuable leadership potential. Women are often more inclusive and democratic than men. They reduce distinctions between levels in the organization and title. Women are known to question paradigms and they are also found to inspire commitment among their colleagues.
  9. Set a higher target. Women typically ask for 30 percent less than men and their expectations are 3-32 percent less, at both the beginning and the peak of their careers.
  10. Combat anxiety by role-playing. Let the other person act as the employer and instruct them to berate, insult, embarrass and try to “totally destroy your composure” so that you will be able to, in an actual negotiation, remove emotion and find ways to jointly solve problems. The negotiation should be a win-win. Without being emotionally charged, you can ask questions to understand the other person’s point of view. You want to express concern about their needs and opinions, without negating your own:
    • You seem surprised by my counteroffer. What would be reasonable to you?
    • How close can you come to my request?
    • We’re really far apart. How can we meet?
    • I don’t want to fight about this.
    • What’s appropriate?
  11. Pay attention to how you ask. Laschever and Babcock found research that showed men were most persuasive when they use the task-oriented (fact-based, simple, obvious conclusion) style or a social style (eye contact, relaxed tone, smiling). Women were more persuasive when they used the social style. Dominant and recessive styles didn’t help either gender.
  12. Know what you are willing to trade. What are your priorities, absolutes and non-negotiables?

Honing your negotiation skills

Laschever and Babcock host a negotiation gym, where each woman gets a buddy. They go through several stages of negotiation, starting with asking for little things. Participants gain enough confidence to get to a point where they ask for things they know they won’t get, and learn that they’ll be fine if someone laughs or yells at them. Learn more at http://www.womendontask.com/.

The underlying principle is practice! You can also read the ALA-APA negotiation articles by experts in our field.

Let us know how well you do in negotiating and we will revel in your good news! Email jgrady@ala.org.