Are Salary Negotiation Skills Different for Men and Women?

For Women, Negotiation Is About More Than Just a Paycheck

By on / Salary Negotiations

How bargaining strategies change depending on the gender of the negotiator

Most negotiators don’t engage in the kinds of high-stakes bargaining we read about in publications such as The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times, but almost every negotiator will need advanced salary negotiation skills during the course of her career to deal with a scenario that is, in many ways, the definition of a “difficult conversation.”

Preparing to Engage in Negotiations

At the Program on Negotiation, we stress preparation for negotiations in our literature and in our Negotiation and Leadership executive education course. But both research and experience tell us that even the most prepared and adept negotiator can have her planning scuttled by unforeseen circumstances and invisible barriers.

That’s why women often encounter difficulty during salary negotiations, according to an article by Tara Siegel Bernard for the New York Times. Self-advocating for a pay raise in the workplace often places women in the unenviable role of attempting “…to juggle when they are on a tight rope.”

In the United States, gender discrimination is typically implicit rather than explicit. Yet its persistence in the workplace presents a personal negotiation challenge that asks women to reconcile their needs with how they present those needs to their counterparts. This task requires a more “calibrated approach,” according to Linda Babcock, head of Carnegie Mellon University’s gender equity program in Pittsburgh.

The majority of negotiation literature and negotiation research focuses on women in salary negotiations, but salary negotiations skills can be applied to a range of scenarios.

In discussing the importance of negotiation to a woman’s career, Hannah Riley Bowles says, “How women negotiate their career path is arguably a more important determinant of lifetime earnings than negotiating a little extra money.”

Salary negotiations skills: A few tips for women

1. Preparation

  • Record feedback from your supervisor and catalogue your contributions to your organization.
  • Seek out mentors and sponsors to help you self-advocate for your career goals.

2. Investigation

Negotiation research reveals that when objective information is available prior to a pay-raise negotiation, such as the salaries of colleagues and peers in the same industry, women perform better at the bargaining table.

  • Engage in research about comparable salaries in your field and across your peer network.
  • Network with colleagues of both genders inside and outside your organization to help you frame your arguments for a raise with objective information.

3. Objectives

Female salary negotiation research shows that women, more often than men, need to legitimize their requests during a negotiation.

  • Look at the scenario from your employer’s perspective.
  • Use the pronoun “we” instead of “I” when making your pitch for a pay raise to your counterpart.

4. Negotiation Style

Complex negotiations require you to be able to read your counterpart’s emotions so you can anticipate the next move. Avoiding email and other forms of electronic communication will lessen the odds that the female negotiator’s intentions and words will be misconstrued.

5. Beware Outside Offers

Negotiation research shows that aggressive maneuvers on the part of female negotiators often backfire. While negotiation experts might normally advise a negotiator to use outside offers to influence the course of negotiations at the bargaining table, this maneuver can have a negative impact on a woman’s salary negotiation. If you’re going to use an outside offer in your salary negotiation, be careful how you present it to prevent your counterpart from misinterpreting it as a threat.

6. Benefits of Engaging in Negotiation Role Play Simulations

Powerful salary negotiations skills can be enhanced with negotiation role-play simulations and by practicing with a neutral counterpart. This can help negotiators of both genders fine-tune their message and the presentation of their argument. Refining your argument in favor of your pay raise and using this opportunity to see the various issues from your counterpart’s perspective will help you anticipate and bridge any gaps that may arise during the real salary negotiation to come.

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Originally published in 2014. 

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