Leveling the playing field through negotiation
Professor Beta Mannix shows how women can use negotiation to get what they deserve
We all know that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but many of us
don’t speak up for what we want, especially if we’re women. According
to Beta Mannix, Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Management at
Johnson, women are typically much less likely than men to negotiate
on the job. “Research shows that women tend to think their work will
speak for itself — we can’t understand why our boss can’t see the obvious
evidence of how well we have performed on a project,” she says.
Negotiation is a valuable tool that can help women gain leverage in the business world, where females are typically underrepresented and undercompensated. For example, women constitute only 3 percent of CEOs, 6 percent of C-level executives, and 15 percent of board members in the Fortune 500. On average, women are paid 80 cents to the dollar earned by men. And, Mannix says, even in typically “female” occupations such as nursing and clerical work, men are consistently promoted more often.
Some discrepancy can be explained by women having insufficient experience for promotion, staff jobs with no control over budgets or strategic organizational issues, and family-related duties that impinge on their work time. However, plenty of empirical evidence shows that women could and should be asking for more pay and perks, says Mannix.
Obtain comparison informationIn one study, men and women were told they would receive between $3 and $10 to participate in a word game. At the end of the game, the experimenter handed each participant $3. Nine times more men than women asked for (and received) more money.i
Women tend to value their work less than men do, Mannix explains, and researchers have found that both men and women perceive that women will take lower offers than men. “Women will work at the same jobs and work longer hours for less money than men,” she says. “The odd thing is, they tend to be more satisfied than men. Why? Partly because they don’t have the right comparison information.”
When women have comparative data, however, they feel much more comfortable asking for better pay. In another study, men and women were asked to evaluate a number of college applications and pay themselves what they felt they deserved. ii The men paid themselves 63 percent more than the women did. But, when participants were shown a list of salaries that previous participants had given themselves, the women gave themselves salaries in line with those of the men.
This finding helps explain why women are generally more comfortable negotiating for things that are “structured,” like starting salaries or raises: Precedents have been set, and comparative data are available. Men, by contrast, will negotiate for things that are more ambiguous and less obvious.
Consider non-obvious itemsBoth men and women can benefit from thinking outside the box in terms of negotiations, Mannix says. “We often think about salaries, bonuses, start date, and perks like company cars or moving allowances; but you should also negotiate your specific job assignment or project, who will be on your team, or whether you can have a consultant to help finish a project,” she says.
“You can also negotiate when you are reviewed for a performance review; if you didn’t get the raise or assignment you wanted, you can ask why you fell short, what’s needed to meet the higher standard, and ask for a review before another year is up,” adds Mannix. Other possibilities include negotiating a business-class seat for a long flight, or a flexible or telecommuting schedule to care for elderly parents. A new mother could even negotiate to have a childcare provider travel with her for an extended overseas assignment. “When you are a valuable asset to the firm, nearly everything is negotiable,” she says. “The point is to be proactive and to know the boundaries of what can be negotiated,” says Mannix. “The research shows that when women know what can be negotiated, and what the boundaries are, they do much better.”
Network, and be aware of expectationsHow do you find the information you need to figure out not only what you can ask for, but when, how, and how much? It turns out that women can get good comparison data for ambiguous situations from high-status people — and those are typically men. “One study found that women do best when they had highly placed men — but not their bosses — in their networks,” says Mannix. “Women need to have networks that include powerful men.” (Remember, men get paid more, and powerful women tend to be so overextended that they may not have the time to help).
So, it’s important for women to cultivate their strategic networks. “This includes people outside your organization, outside your department; people who are well-placed and are interested in helping sponsor, mentor, and challenge you; people who can help you get legitimacy in your organization,” says Mannix.
Armed with relevant information, a woman can march in with her requests, right? Not quite. If she appears too aggressive, she can hamstring her own negotiations. “Women who appear too confident and self-assured — which is important when making the case for a raise, for example — can be viewed as strident and unlikeable,” Mannix cautions.
So, for women, negotiation is a delicate balancing act. “Research shows that women tend to get the best outcomes when they are not just competent, but also likeable,” says Mannix. Likeability is much less important for men who are trying to negotiate (they can, in fact, suffer from appearing “too nice”).
Another important research finding: People expect men to be agentic (that is, working in their self-interest) and women to act in a communal manner (that is, working to benefit their group). “When expectations are violated, we often react badly, and this can result in poor outcomes for negotiators,” says Mannix. “So, when we encounter an agentic woman, it is disturbing, and she can experience backlash.”
Thus, one strategy for women is to negotiate not only on their own behalf, but also to make a case for how their request will help the larger group. “What they have done for the firm, for the team, for business results overall demonstrates a connection to the good of the whole,” explains Mannix. “Then, asking for an additional team member, or for a promotion, is linked to the good of the organization.”