Monday, August 06, 2007

Salary and Gender

Arbitrary Marks leads an interesting discussion on gender expectations based on Salary, Gender, and the Social Cost of Haggling. I left a couple of comments, but, before I inadvertently take over the thread, I thought I would post more here.

The traditional advice in the workplace has always been that women need to "act more like men" and "get some self-esteem" to become more comfortable with asking for what they need in terms of money, time, and status. I've certainly taken this advice to heart. I've worked with several career counselors over more than a decade to become much more comfortable with asking for what I need.

Here's the problem: it simply has not worked for me. In fact, I've found that there are a large number of negoiating at work tasks that my husband, Jim, can do extremely well (ask for more money, more time, a better title, and even collect money owed quickly) that when I perform the same tasks in the same manner have almost the opposite result for me. In short, there is often a substantial penalty for me when I behave like Jim. I don't get the money, the time, or the title. And it often sours the relationship (between me and the employer or client).

Here's a summary from the study, which certainly corresponds to my own experience:

Their study, which was coauthored by Carnegie Mellon researcher Lei Lai, found that men and women get very different responses when they initiate negotiations. Although it may well be true that women often hurt themselves by not trying to negotiate, this study found that women's reluctance was based on an entirely reasonable and accurate view of how they were likely to be treated if they did. Both men and women were more likely to subtly penalize women who asked for more -- the perception was that women who asked for more were "less nice".
So before you advise (and before I advise) a woman to become more assertive in the workplace with salary negotiations, consider the fact that her gut instinct may sense the considerable penalties involved.