Are women less likely to negotiate a job offer?

Paul Levy; Author/Blogger; Former President and CEO, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

There’s been a lot of research. My wife and I have read a lot of research that is very conclusive that women do worse in salary and job negotiations than men. There appear to be two reasons for that. This is not related to genetics; this is socialization. Reason number one is that women tend to ask for less than men do. The standard they will apply very often is, “What’s a fair amount?” The standard a man will apply in that situation is, “What’s the most I can possibly get? That’s the fair amount to me.” So there seems to be a socialization reason for that. That’s one thing.

We urge women before they’re in the position of negotiating a salary to have done their research, to really understand the market. And if, indeed, they want to know what’s fair, it’s what the market is paying. That’s fair. Don’t undercut yourself by offering a salary that is actually less than the marketplace because you’ll feel resentful and bad about that later. That’s one issue.

The other issue is the research shows that when a woman advocates for herself in a job negotiation, it is more poorly perceived by the other party than when a man does. Even if the other party is a woman. It’s perceived as being overly aggressive or inappropriate — and, again, that’s a terrible phenomenon, but it exists. It’s been proven over and over again. So the question is, what do you do about that?

You can’t change society, but what you can do is build on your strengths. One of the strengths you’re likely to have is the ability to build a relationship with the other person before you talk about the money. Let’s say you’re in a situation. They say, “We’re so happy, Sally, to offer you this job. We’d love to have you onboard. Here’s the salary we’re prepared to pay.” Before responding to that directly, you might say something like, “Thank you so much for that; I’m really honored and pleased. Before we talk about that, would you mind if I asked some other questions I’ve been curious about?” The other person will say, “Sure, what?” “Well, how long have you worked for this company, and what have you enjoyed about the experience here? How does it fit into your career and your career plans? What kind of career advice would you have for someone of my age and position as I think about the future?” And so on.

Spend an amount of time creating a relationship with the other person, and after you’ve done that — even though it’s somewhat short, and maybe it’s a bit of a shallow kind of relationship (it obviously isn’t going to be deep after 5 or 10 minutes) — it changes the dynamic enough so that you can then say, “Thank you, that’s been so helpful to me. It’s been great to get to know you a bit better. Now, can we turn back to that job offer? It strikes me that that’s a little bit below what the market is paying for comparable positions. I’m wondering what kind of movement may be possible from that.”

We believe, and we’ve had this proven by students we’ve advised, that it will make a difference, and you’ll be better perceived and you’ll do better in the negotiation. It works for young men also, but it’s not as essential for young men as it is for young women.