Hannah Riley Bowles: Negotiating Salary
TWO PEOPLE try to negotiate a higher salary, but each gets a different response. Why? One is a man and one is a woman. Hannah Riley Bowles MPP 1994, an assistant professor of public policy, explores gender effects in negotiation in her research. Her recent working paper details the results of two experiments in which participants evaluated candidates who either accepted compensation offers without comment or attempted to negotiate higher compensation.
Why study how people respond to women who negotiate?
This paper was motivated by recent findings that there are sex differences in the propensity to initiate negotiation. There’s increasing evidence that men are more likely to initiate negotiation than are women. Research with corporate managers, for instance, shows that men are more likely to say that they use negotiation as a strategy for upward influence. One study showed that 57 percent of male graduate students attempted to negotiate their starting salary while only 7 percent of female graduate students did, and that those students who negotiated gained an additional 7 percent on average. Even small differences in starting salary can produce large differences in earnings over the course of a career, if annual raises are calculated on a percentage basis.
Why aren’t more women negotiating?
It’s a natural thing to say, “Buck up a little bit. You’ve got to act more like the guys.” But there’s a good deal of evidence to show that telling women to act more like men isn’t always good advice. One reason why we see gender differences is that the world treats men and women differently. People have different expectations and reinforce different types of behavior by men and women. For instance, women tend to be more modest in their self-presentation style, but modesty undermines perceived competence. If a man and a woman are self-promoting, both are perceived as equally competent, but the woman is seen as less socially astute and so is less likely to be hired.
In your research, how did people react to women who try to negotiate salary?
When men were evaluating female job candidates, they were significantly more likely to want to work with a woman who accepted her compensation offer without comment. They perceived the women who attempted to negotiate as less nice and overly demanding. It didn’t matter to the men if a male candidate attempted to negotiate for higher compensation or not. Female evaluators were resistant to both men and women who attempted to negotiate.
How would you advise a woman about negotiating salary once she gets a job offer?
One of the unsatisfying, but motivating, pieces of the findings is that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. What we’re working on next is to examine ways women can self-present that would get them past this problem. Women more than men may have to balance the immediate economic gain in pushing really hard in the negotiation with some of the immediate and longer-term social costs of doing that.
What about negotiating things other than salary?
We often just focus on salary. But women’s long-term career impact may have more to do with the type of mentorship and work experience they’re able to get and a whole variety of other things. It’s not clear that the results we get would extend to negotiating other types of work opportunities. Asking for money may be a kind of particularly socially risky domain for women.
As women entering the workforce becomes the norm, do you envision more equality at the negotiating table?
Gender norms are malleable. Societies with more inequitable gender relations tend to espouse more sexist beliefs. In the United States, one of the areas in which women have made great strides in terms of expectations is perceived competence. American society is becoming very comfortable in accepting that women can be highly competent in their positions.
The key take-away from this set of studies is that, when we see sex differences in the propensity to negotiate, it’s not just because of some deficiency on the part of the women. Women are getting different cues from society, and they’re responding to them. It doesn’t mean that women should give up and never negotiate. Women face different social incentives than men, and that’s something they need to think about trying to work around if they do want to ultimately gain the same resources.
To download Bowles’s working paper RWP05-045, go to www.ksg.harvard.edu/research/