October 3, 2017

Negotiation and the Gender Divide

From one generation to another and across industries, research shows that when it comes to negotiating at work, most women cringe. Do men have an advantage in negotiation --  maneuvering for choice work assignments, asking for promotions, salary raises, and more?

On September 12, Women@Goodwin hosted Dr. Linda Babcock, of the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University, for a Boston office discussion on gender differences in initiating negotiations, and how that can impact opportunities for women in the workplace.

Navigating the Labyrinth

Dr. Babcock opened the conversation with an image of a woman navigating a labyrinth, a metaphor for the complex set of barriers women face in negotiating, and in getting to where they want to be in their careers. From gender bias in the workplace, to gender differences in initiating negotiations and allocating time at work, navigating advancement in the workplace can be challenging for many women.

From birth, Dr. Babcock says girls and boys are treated differently, from the colors they are expected to wear, to the sports they are encouraged to play, to the chores their parents ask of them, to the way they are comforted in times of need. We have different, often subconscious, expectations about how males and females should act, creating a barrier from the get-go for women in negotiations.

Gender Differences in Negotiating

When it comes to starting a career, is it surprising that 51.5% of male graduate students negotiate their job offer versus only 12.5% of women? And while males find the negotiation process similar to playing a sport, and fighting to win the game, women tend to equate it with the experience of going to the dentist, or walking a tightrope. They can see what they want at the end of the line, but realize there are costs in getting there, and it can be a difficult journey.

Workplace Tasks

Dr. Babcock’s studies find that in the workplace, women end up handling more tasks low in promotability (on average five hours more per week than men) versus men who spend more time on tasks high in promotability (on average six to seven hours more per week than women). Dr. Babcock shared a real-life example of her daily schedule compared to that of her male colleague, who she nicknamed “George”. She found that while she was able to devote one hour of her day to research, which is a key factor for her own promotability, “George” spent six hours doing research.

So why does this happen? Is it because women always say “yes” when asked to join a new committee or volunteer their time? Dr. Babcock’s recent research has found that a woman is 45% more likely to be asked to volunteer for a task than a man. And in response, women say “yes” 76% of the time while men do so only 51% of the time. Dr. Babcock’s findings resonated with many female members of the audience who nodded as they realized how many extra committees and meetings fill their days beyond their job description. And male members of the audience were intrigued to learn that “George,” the male colleague who historically volunteered little of his time, started to spend more of his time on important but “non-promotable” activities once he was exposed to Dr. Babcock’s research and realized that by saying no to volunteering he was putting the burden on his female colleagues.

Effective Strategies

While Dr. Babcock’s studies emphasize the hurdles and barriers women face in negotiating, especially in the workplace, she has also identified solutions for overcoming such barriers on the individual, organizational and societal levels. For individuals, she recommends preparing for negotiating as if you were doing it for a friend (an area where women excel in negotiation), reminding yourself of a time when you were powerful, and finding strategies that eliminate backlash (e.g., by taking a community-oriented or win-win stance in the negotiation – a strategy that works equally for men and women but that results in less bias against women than other negotiation styles). At the organizational level, she recommends educating men and women about the differences in who initiates negotiation and who does more “volunteer” work, and putting better systems in place to allocate important but non-promotable work more evenly.

On an even broader level, Dr. Babcock shared examples of societal solutions already in progress. An example that hit close to home for many in the audience is Boston’s WorkSmart program, developed by the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement and the American Association of University Women. As part of its efforts as the first city to make a formal commitment to closing the gender wage gap – an initiative to which Goodwin is a signatory – Boston is offering broadly offering a free “WorkSmart” workshop to women that provides them with the tools they need to successfully negotiate salary. The program will be made available to 85,000 women (half of the working women in Boston) by 2021.

In closing, the audience was left with a quote from Rosabeth Moss Kanter: “A vision of what is possible, a source of hope and inspiration, is the necessary ingredient for energizing change.”