Adapted from “A Fresh Look Through the Glass Ceiling,” first published in the Negotiation newsletter.
Women are less likely to seize opportunities to negotiate than men, Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever documented in their widely-read book Women Don’t Ask. Subsequent research has indicated that, when they do negotiate on their own behalf, women ask for and receive lower wages than men.
Research from Fiona Greig of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government sheds further light on this important topic. Greig surveyed 319 client-facing professionals at an investment bank. At the end of the 15-minute survey, respondents were offered a free Starbucks card in appreciation of their time. The survey indicated that the value of the card had not yet been determined and asked the respondents to propose how much they should receive.
Like other researchers, Greig finds that women were significantly less likely than men to even make a request (76% of women compared to 90% of men), and that women requested less than men, on average ($17.84 for women and $20.98 for men, though this difference was not statistically significant). More interestingly, Greig finds connections between this “propensity to negotiate” and career advancement within the bank. Those more inclined to negotiate were not able to use this skill to extract a better entry-level position, but they were promoted, on average, eighteen months sooner than those who tended not to negotiate.
What might these results imply about the fact that women are under-represented at the top levels of professional services firms—the so-called “glass ceiling” effect? Greig finds that the gender gap in propensity to negotiate completely accounts for the gender gap in seniority. She concludes, “if women were to negotiate on behalf of themselves as much as men do, they would advance as quickly as men and eliminate the under-representation of women in the top ranks of the organization.”
The findings provide further reason for women to be vigilant about seizing opportunities to negotiate on their own behalf. The findings also should interest managers who wish to promote based on merit rather than on the basis of angling by employees.