Women's 'double bind' in salary negotiations

Women are being told that they are “too competitive [and] unfeminine” for trying to negotiate their salary.

They are put in a “double bind” by the situation as if you don’t ask you don’t get, but if you do then you could be shunned as too pushy, according to investment banker Whitney Johnson in a blog for the Harvard Business Review.

While she admits that her attempts to negotiate her salary at the beginning of her career were successful, Ms Johnson admitted that over time she found that the position of “nice girls can’t ask’ has tended to be more accurate” a description of negotiations

Commenting on the post, Sherry Gordon, president of management consultancy firm The Value Chain Group, said in an article for Spendmatters.com that “most women would not be at all surprised by these findings ? and I’m certainly one of those women”.

“Early in my career at a large consulting firm I was told that I was too competitive and even unfeminine when standing up for myself in a salary negotiation. Later on at a large electronics firm, where I worked in manufacturing, I was told that I couldn’t be given a particular deal because it would wreak havoc if other women found out.”

Ms Johnson argued that these professional disputes could be based on societal norms rather than problems with the employee herself, adding that women need to gauge the situation and calculate the social cost of entering negotiations.

She said: “When men ask for something, they are being proactive; when women ask, they are being pushy. It’s a double standard to be sure, but it’s also a double bind – if we don’t ask, we don’t get; if we do ask, we may be shunned.”

Either way, she continued, if a female worker is left empty-handed after putting an offer on the table, she will at least get information about whether her employers are open to negotiations and at what price.

Ms Gordon also alluded to an article written for the US journal Negotiation concerning women’s abilities as negotiators.

The 2005 ‘When Gender Changes the Negotiation’ article found that “women perform better when negotiating on behalf of others than they do when negotiating for themselves; no such difference emerges among male negotiators,” a finding which Ms Gordon suggests shows that women can be equally effective negotiators in a procurement setting.

Womenintechnology.co.uk will be hosting a training course “Women: The Powerful Negotiators” on Wednesday 13th January 2010. Click here for more details.

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