Women Negotiators and Barriers to the Bargaining Table

Negotiation examples of the barriers female negotiators face at the bargaining table

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women in negotiation

Advocating for a higher salary or a new job title is something many bargainers will face in their career. The barriers women negotiators face when negotiating for jobs and career advancement are well known: Women who ask for more money or better opportunities can face a backlash for violating traditional gender norms. They may get what they want, but may risk being disliked by their coworkers.


In our FREE special report from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School – The New Conflict Management: Effective Conflict Resolution Strategies to Avoid Litigation – renowned negotiation experts uncover unconventional approaches to conflict management that can turn adversaries into partners.


Barriers for women negotiators at the bargaining table

Unfortunately, a new negotiation research study finds that female negotiators, as well as racial minorities, are likely to face bias in negotiations even before they have a chance to begin bargaining.

Katherine L. Milkman of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Modupe Akinola of Columbia Business School, and Dolly Chugh of New York University’s Stern School of Business sent email messages to 6,500 professors at top U.S. universities in a range of disciplines. The messages were purported to be from potential doctoral students who were writing to inquire about possible research opportunities with the professors. The (fictional) students asked to meet with the professor for 10 minutes during an upcoming visit to campus. The researchers varied the names of the students to reflect gender differences and various racial differences. A few of the names used, for example, included Brad Anderson (suggestive of a white male), Latoya Brown (suggestive of a black female), and Deepak Patel (suggestive of an Indian male).

After sending the emails, the researchers waited to see who would respond. They found that faculty ignored requests from women and minorities at a higher rate than requests from Caucasian males, particularly when the professors worked in higher-paying disciplines, such as the hard sciences and business, and at private rather than public institutions. Business professors were 2.6 times more likely to be willing to meet with white males than with women or minorities. In the least discriminatory field, the humanities, professors still ignored women and minorities at 1.3 times the rate of white males.

Interestingly, it wasn’t just a case of white male professors showing “in-group favoritism” toward other white males; women and minority professors were also more prone to respond to white men and ignore messages ostensibly from women and minorities.

When applying to an organization, we are often advised to reach out to potential mentors and others who might help us get our foot in the door. But these research results suggest that seemingly small, daily decisions by potential mentors can lead to discrimination toward minorities and females.

How can such discrimination, which is likely in most cases to be unintentional, be overcome? Milkman, Akinola, and Chugh suggest that organizations should work to address potential bias not only during formal hiring processes, but also at the informal level, beginning by making gatekeepers aware of the risk that they will discriminate.

In addition, although this study suggests that women negotiators and minorities cannot be expected to be less discriminatory than white males, increased faculty diversity in universities has been associated with higher educational attainment by women and minorities. This should make the goal of eliminating gender and racial bias at the entry phase all the more important for universities and other organizations.

What barriers do you think women negotiators face at the bargaining table?

Related Conflict Resolution Article: Types of Power in Negotiation: Negotiation Research and Eliminating Gender Difference in Bargaining Scenarios – Different types of power, as well as differing levels of status at the bargaining table, factor in to negotiation scenarios in often intangible yet consequential ways. Using the latest from negotiation research, this article explores the types of power exhibited at the bargaining table and how negotiators can grapple with lower levels of bargaining power.


In our FREE special report from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School – The New Conflict Management: Effective Conflict Resolution Strategies to Avoid Litigation – renowned negotiation experts uncover unconventional approaches to conflict management that can turn adversaries into partners.


Originally published in 2014.

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