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Ask For A Raise? Most Women Hesitate
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Ask For A Raise? Most Women Hesitate

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Ask For A Raise? Most Women Hesitate
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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Women have made a lot of gains in the workplace. Still, the gender pay gap persists. Women's salaries average about 80 cents to a man's dollar. There are many reasons for this.

And NPR's Jennifer Ludden explores one of them now. Women don't negotiate as much as men.

JENNIFER LUDDEN: Here's what's at stake. Economist Linda Babcock, of Carnegie Mellon, says negotiating even a small boost in pay at the start of your career will have a snowball effect. It will mean a bigger annual raise, possibly bigger bonuses, and it will carry over when you change companies and they ask - as they always do - what was your last salary.

P: I tell my graduate students that by not negotiating their job at the beginning of their career, they're leaving anywhere between a million and a million and a half dollars on the table in lost earnings over their lifetime.

LUDDEN: Babcock's research shows men are four times as likely to ask for a pay raise. So the people leaving all that money on the table are overwhelmingly women.

P: They wait to be offered a salary increase. They wait to be offered a promotion. They wait to be assigned the task or team or job that they want. And those things typically don't happen very often.

LUDDEN: Babcock says often, women don't even think to ask for something more. And if they do, they find the very notion intimidating - even scary. In fact, this might be for good reason. It turns out when women do negotiate, it can backfire.

Babcock showed people videos of men and women asking for a raise, following the exact, same script. People liked the man's style and said yes, pay him more. But the woman?

P: People found that to be way too aggressive. She was successful in getting the money, but people did not like her. They thought she was too demanding. And this can have real consequences for a woman's career.

LUDDEN: To be clear, men and women thought that way. Babcock has found some strategies that do work for women without the backlash. They can justify the request by saying their team leader, for example, thought they should ask for a raise. Or they can convince the boss their negotiating skills are good for the company.

T: appear friendly, warm, and concerned for others above yourself.

P: I got to say, that was very depressing.

LUDDEN: Lisa Gates also found herself depressed. She's a life coach in Santa Barbara, and helps women create all sorts of plans to advance themselves. But then, she finds they just can't - or won't - ask for what they want.

A year ago, Gates teamed up with mediation expert Victoria Pynchon to teach a course called "She Negotiates." They hold coaching sessions via teleconference, honing skills they say are useful well beyond the office.

LUDDEN: I'm going to ask for somebody else to jump in, to practice...

LUDDEN: In this role-play, Deborah wants to ask her ex-husband for an advance in child support.

DEBORAH: Marty, I'm just, you know, I'm wondering how you feel about all this, you know, 'cause I mentioned last week, you know, we kind of had the spirited conversation, as you called it, that I was mentioning it would be good...

LUDDEN: Stop, stop, stop, Deborah. Brilliant opening, open-ended question, and then you're uncomfortable.

DEBORAH: Yeah.

LUDDEN: And when you're uncomfortable, you talk.

DEBORAH: Yeah.

LUDDEN: So let me remind you: The most powerful negotiation tool is silence.

LUDDEN: Lisa Gates says women get better with practice, so she gives assignments.

BLOCK: Oh, we might have them go out and negotiate retail. Did I miss the sale on this? I'd like to get the sale price on these shoes or, you know, anything.

BLOCK: I really learned to be conscious about the fact that I had never asked before.

LUDDEN: Trudie Olsen-Curtis had been at the same bartending job for four years when she took the negotiating course. She says it taught her to assess her skills based on their market value. She worked up the nerve and approached her boss, reminding him she was punctual, honest and loyal.

BLOCK: I felt like I was pretty tough because he kept trying to maneuver around it, talking about the economy and la, la, la, you know. I had to keep bringing him back to: This is the value that I give you.

LUDDEN: It worked. Olsen-Curtis got a 25 percent raise. Researcher Linda Babcock has decided real change must start young. She's launched an effort to target girls, and came up with this new twist on an old tradition: Girl Scouts can now carry out a series of 10 negotiations to earn a badge, called Win-Win.

Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.

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