For Women, Pay Negotiations Can Bear Social Cost

Imagine a well-groomed, highly qualified man assertively asking for a higher salary and benefits. Now imagine a woman doing the same. Linda Babcock and her colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University want to know whether these two scenarios elicit different reactions, and why women are less likely to ask for better pay.

On average, women make $16,000 less than equally qualified men but are less likely, in general, to try to negotiate their salaries. According to Babcock, women describe being more anxious than men about negotiating. Her studies show that their anxieties might be justified: Negotiating for higher pay can come with a cost for women.

"Women are penalized more than men for negotiating," Babcock tells Alex Cohen. "People are less likely to like them; if they negotiate in a job interview, they are less likely to hire them. There are real social sanctions that occur when women initiate negotiations."

Babcock reached these conclusions after a series of experiments in which participants either played the role of a senior manager evaluating job candidates or adopted the role of a candidate seeking a job. When playing the part of senior manager, participants were asked to watch videos or read written descriptions of either a man or a woman interviewing for a job and asking for benefits and a higher salary.

In another series of experiments, participants were asked to place themselves in the position of a job candidate and could either ask for higher pay or choose not to negotiate.

Babcock found that women who negotiated were perceived and treated differently from the men who did the same. Male evaluators penalized women more than men who attempted to negotiate for higher compensation, and female evaluators disliked both men and women who chose to negotiate. When reading written responses, female evaluators disliked women who negotiated more than they disliked men who did the same.

So what should women do? Babcock suggests that the answer may not be to adopt an aggressive strategy for negotiating. Instead, she is looking to see whether asking for higher pay using a less aggressive demeanor and language might help women to negotiate for a better salary without suffering the social consequences.

"Some of our new research is looking at [whether] there is a way that a woman can still ask for the same thing and yet perhaps soften her style a little bit so that she is not negatively perceived," Babcock says.

Babcock's paper on these findings can be found in the May issue of the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. She is also a co-author of the book Women Don't Ask.

— Text by Haley Bridger

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