A previous post on this site (see below) discussed how women were far less likely to negotiate for salary increases. That post concluded that, at least to some extent, the squeaky wheel gets the olive oil. Past studies show that women are more likely to be modest. And they also show that self-promotion, not modesty, leads to perceived competence. So why not just abandon modesty and claim riches?
This paper by Hannah Bowles, Linda Babcock, and Lei Lai explains shows that there’s a very good reason women shy away from negotiation and self-promotion: they are socially penalized if they do.
Here are are the Discussion and Conclusions portions of the paper: (Or click here for the full paper.)
We posed the question at the beginning of this paper of whether women’s greater reluctance (as compared to men) to initiate negotiations over resources, such as higher compensation, could be explained by the differential treatment of male and female negotiators.
The results of these experiments suggest that the answer to this question is yes. In the first three experiments, male evaluators penalized women more than men for attempting to negotiate for higher compensation. In Experiment 4, women were more reticent than men about attempting to negotiate for higher compensation with a male evaluator, and nervousness about attempting to negotiate explained this gender difference. The results of the mediation analyses in Experiments 2 and 3 were consistent with the proposition that women encounter resistance when they attempt to negotiate for higher compensation because such behavior is a status violation. Men were significantly more inclined to work with nicer and less demanding women who accepted their compensation offers without comment than they were with those who attempted to negotiate for higher compensation, even though they perceived women who spoke up to be just as competent as women who demurred.
The behavior of female evaluators differed across Experiments 1, 2 and 3. When evaluating written descriptions or transcripts of the candidates’ interview responses (Experiments 1 and 2), female evaluators penalized women more than men for attempting to negotiate for higher compensation. After watching and listening to the candidates respond to the interview questions on video (Experiment 3), female evaluators were disinclined to work with both men and women who initiated negotiations. Interestingly, the behavior of the participants in Experiment 4 mirrored most closely the results of the video-based experiment; there was no difference in men’s and women’s propensity to initiate negotiations with a female evaluator.
Previous video-based research on gender and social influence produced a similar pattern of results to those reported in Experiment 3, with men demanding a higher degree of likeability from female than from male targets to be persuaded by them and women perceiving likeability to be important to the persuasiveness of both men and women (Carli et al., 1995). More theory and research are needed to explore more deeply the role of the gender of the evaluator in the reinforcement of prescriptive sex stereotypes and to disentangle the inconsistencies in the effect of the gender of the evaluator observed across these studies and in the broader literature on prescriptive sex stereotypes (Heilman & Chen, 2005). The current set of studies suggests that future research on the effect of the gender of the evaluator should explore potential methodological as well as contextual moderators (Carli, 1990; Deaux & LaFrance, 1998; Deaux & Major, 1987; Kanter, 1977).
Negotiation and the Distribution of Organizational Resources
This research has important implications for the distribution of resources and opportunities within organizations. If men have more freedom to negotiate for themselves than do women, particularly with senior men, then that could help to explain phenomena, such as the gender wage gap and glass ceiling. In most organizations, those who control organizational resources and opportunities for advancement tend to be men. If women are justifiably less inclined than men to initiate negotiations with men, then they may have fewer opportunities to increase their compensation and promotion potential.
It is not clear from the results of these experiments that men consciously resist women’s attempts to negotiate. The results of Experiment 4 indicated that women (as compared to men) were more reticent about negotiating with a male evaluator because the idea of doing so made them more nervous and not because they anticipated more backlash. It warrants further investigation whether men’s resistance to women who initiate compensation negotiations is also motivated more by a feeling of aversion or discomfort than by a conscious decision that such behavior by women should be discouraged. Research on the challenges to women of breaking the glass ceiling, for instance, indicates many male CEOs think that women should take more initiative to signal their interest in critical developmental experiences (Ragins, Townsend, & Mattis, 1998). Future research should explore whether raising awareness about the systemic reasons for gender differences in the initiation of negotiations might help to mitigate the social risks for women. Moreover, both male and female managers should keep in mind that negotiation is a fundamental form of social interaction within organizations, and a potentially important mechanism for the retention and attraction of talented labor (Rousseau, 2005). More research is needed to understand better the organizational implications of inhibiting the initiation of negotiations over issues such as compensation.
The Decision to Negotiate
Whether our participants’ behavior was optimal, in terms of weighing the actual social and economic costs and benefits of initiating compensation negotiations, remains an open question. The benefits of initiating negotiations in this type of context would obviously include the expected compensation gains, and the costs would include the risks of undermining potentially important working relations and missing out on desirable work opportunities. If the expected economic gains were large enough to outweigh the social costs, then the rational course of action would be to initiate negotiations, in spite of the social costs. If the social costs and their long-term career implications outweighed the benefits of higher compensation, then reticence would be the more prudent choice. We cannot claim, based on our research, that either men or women are initiating negotiations too much or too little. We show with this research that women’s disinclination relative to men to initiate negotiations over resources, such as compensation, may be traced to the higher social costs that they face when doing so.
It deserves highlighting that, on average, both men and women in Experiment 4 preferred the no-negotiation to the negotiation plan for responding to a question about their salary and benefits offer. This may be attributable in part to the artificiality of choosing between two predetermined scripts rather than choosing one’s own words to negotiate. However, research on the propensity to initiate negotiations reveals relatively low overall rates of initiation. For instance, studies of the salary negotiations of graduating professional school students suggest that less than a third of students initiate compensation negotiations (32% in study by Babcock & Laschever, 2003; 21% in study by Gerhart & Rynes, 1991). In recent laboratory research, only 12% of participants initiated negotiations when they knew they might earn more if they asked (Babcock, Laschever, Gelfand, & Small, 2003). These low baselines of negotiation raise important questions about the decision to negotiate that have yet to be addressed in the literature. Future research should investigate the motivations for this hesitancy, particularly in situations in which the economic costs to not negotiating are substantial.
One limitation of our experimental design was the artificiality of the negotiation and nonegotiation scripts. If the candidates had been able to choose their own words, it is possible that men and women would have presented themselves differently (Barron, 2003). We weighed this limitation, however, against the benefits of enabling us to test the effects of gender of participant, gender of evaluator and gender identification on perceptions of a specific set of behavioral choices and to test in Experiments 2 and 3 how evaluators would perceive men and women enacting the precise behaviors that the participants assessed in Experiment 4. Future research should explore whether men and women initiate negotiations in different ways and whether variation in accounts (Scott & Lyman, 1968) or self-presentation style (Carli, 1990; Carli et al., 1995) would moderate the evaluation of their negotiation attempts.
Our findings reinforce the importance for negotiation scholars and practitioners of considering the social as well as economic outcomes of negotiation (Curhan, Elfenbein, & Xu, in press; Morris, Larrick, & Su, 1999). This work adds to this understudied area of research in negotiation by providing another demonstration that the social costs of engaging in certain negotiating behaviors may not outweigh the economic benefits (Morris et al., 1999). When focusing primarily on economic outcomes of negotiation, we fail to appreciate fully the costs and benefits of negotiation processes and their products.
The current research also contributes to the growing body of literature on gender in negotiation in at least four respects. First, whereas previous research has focused on internal motivations for gender differences in the propensity to initiate negotiations (Babcock et al., 2006), this set of studies demonstrates clearly that men and women face different social incentives when deciding whether to initiate negotiations over issues such as compensation. This advancement is important because it should shift the discussion of prescriptive implications away from fixing the women to addressing the social conditions that motivate these gender differences (Watson, 1994b). Second, by demonstrating that there are contextual explanations for gender effects in negotiation behavior, we contribute empirical research to a long line of theoretical work that has criticized the sex-difference approach to the study of gender in negotiation (Gray, 1994; Kolb & Putnam, 1997; Kolb & Williams, 2000; Wade, 2001; Watson, 1994a, 1994b).
Third, this research adds to the recent body of work on sex stereotypes in negotiation by
illuminating the influence of prescriptive, as opposed to descriptive, sex stereotypes (Burgess & Borgida, 1999) – or, in terms of social role theory, stereotypes about gender roles as opposed to sex-typed skills (Eagly, 1987). Whereas previous research has demonstrated various ways in which gender-based performance expectations shape negotiation outcomes (Kray et al., 2002; Kray et al., 2004; Kray et al., 2001), this research shows that gender-based norms of appropriate behavior may influence whether individuals decide to negotiate and the social outcomes of their negotiations. Future research should continue this exploration of how gendered expectations of appropriate negotiating behavior may influence negotiation performance (Wade, 2001).
Fourth, this work contributes to the documentation of situational moderators of gender effects in negotiation. Contrary to the proposition that women are always more reluctant than men to negotiate, we found that women were only more reluctant than men to attempt to negotiate in the situation in which the relative social risk was greatest (i.e., with a male evaluator). Future research should draw motivation from developments in the study of situational moderators of gender effects in negotiation (Bowles et al., 2005; Kray & Thompson, 2005; Walters et al., 1998) and continue to explore the boundaries of gender differences in the propensity to initiate negotiations. For instance, the activation of explicit sex stereotypes favoring men or of implicit sex stereotypes favoring women might prompt women to initiate negotiations more often than men (Kray et al., 2002; Kray et al., 2001). To the extent that men and women differ in relational orientation (Cross & Madson, 1997; Gabriel & Gardner, 1999), manipulation of the current or potential future relationship between negotiating parties might moderate gender effects in the propensity to initiate negotiations (Gelfand, Major, Raver, Nishii, & O’Brien, 2006). Gender differences in the propensity to initiate negotiations might also be influenced by the prospective negotiator’s representation role (i.e., for self vs. other). Previous research suggests that women are more motivated in compensation negotiations when they are representing someone else as opposed to themselves (Bowles et al., 2005).
Finally, these findings have important implications for the teaching and practice of negotiation, because they show that one-size-fits-all prescriptions may not turn out to be “best practice” for both male and female negotiators. This research suggests that gender differences in the initiation of negotiations cannot be resolved simply by encouraging women to speak up more. Addressing this issue requires an understanding of the situational circumstances that motivate gender differences in the propensity to initiate negotiations and a set of prescriptions that alter the behavior of evaluators as well as negotiators.