fbpx Thinking Strategically About Career Negotiations | Harvard Kennedy School

What factors place women at a disadvantage in negotiation? How can you best prepare for important career negotiations? Hannah Riley Bowles is a leading expert on when and how gender influences negotiation and on the role of negotiation in the career advancement of women. Join us as she shares her research and answers callers’ questions on this important issue.

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Transcript

Mari Megias:

Good day, everyone. I am Mari Megias, assistant director of communications for alumni relations and resource development at Harvard Kennedy School, and I am delighted to welcome you to this on-the-record Wiener Conference call. Today we are joined by Hannah Riley Bowles, who is going to lead our conversation on thinking strategically about career negotiations.

Hannah is the Roy E. Larson senior lecturer in public policy and management at Harvard Kennedy School, where she chairs the management, leadership, and decision sciences area and co directs the Women and Public Policy Program. She’s a leading expert on how gender influences pay negotiations and on women’s leadership advancement. She’s also an MPP graduate of Harvard Kennedy School and has her doctorate from Harvard Business School. She’s the founding faculty director of Women in Power, the HKS executive program for women in senior leadership from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. She also launched a degree course this year on gender and public policy, promoting gender equality at work. Hannah, thank you for joining us.

Hannah Riley Bowles:

Thank you for having me. I’m delighted to have this opportunity to be with you all today. I was delighted, also, to see that we have people calling in from all around the globe. East Africa, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, as well as a preponderance of folks from North America. It is exciting for me to connect with you all, and I’m going to do my best to highlight when the theory or the findings I talk about may vary across cultures or have limits to generalizations. But I do think that the ideas, and particularly the analytic questions that I’m going to be proposing that we ask ourselves and our organizations, are ones that are broadly relevant, and we just have to figure out how to apply them in context.

Given that I’m talking to a Kennedy School audience, I actually want to start off saying a few words about the gender wage gap and the relationship of career negotiations to the gender wage gap. And then I’m going to get into explaining some of the key factors that predict gender differences in negotiation behavior and outcomes, and then I’m going to close with strategies for individual organizations and policymakers.

In relation to gender wage gap, there’s been a lot of popular conversation about training women to negotiate better, particularly for more pay, as a solution to the gender wage gap. In fact, it’s actually gotten to the point where there are now, at least in the United States, negotiation training programs for women to negotiate their pay in a whole spate of major cities. I don’t know what the number is now, but it’s really remarkable this has kind of caught on like wildfire. I don’t know whether people are doing this in other countries. I am all in favor of negotiation training. There’s actually a lot of evidence that negotiation training is good for women, and that it’s good for men, it improves their performance and negotiation, and particularly their capacity not to leave value on the table. And the other thing that I, when I’m visiting some of these programs, the other thing that I really like to see is women working with other women, kind of cheering each other on in terms of their pay negotiations and their career advancements.

But I do worry a bit about the message that these negotiation training programs are sending, because if you actually look at the key factors that explain the gender wage gap, it is not the case that the problem is that women don’t negotiate enough for their pay. In fact, that is important in some contexts, and it’s a really great thing to do for both men and women, but this 79 cents on the dollar, which we refer to in the United States, and I guess in Western Europe the number is more like 82 cents on the dollar, but that gap that people talk about is the portion of that gap that is explained by discrimination in pay, or potentially by negotiation behavior, is really just a tiny sliver. To address the gender wage gap is a much more complicated puzzle.

I want to talk a little bit about the primary explanations for the gender wage gap, and then the potential roles of negotiations within that. The two primary explanations, well, let me back up a minute. When people in the United States, hear 79 cents on the dollar, I think they imagine a man and a woman in the same job, and she’s earning 79 cents on the dollar. And that is not actually accurate. When they calculate the 79 cents on the dollar, they are not looking at men and women in the same job, in the same organization, in the same city. What they are looking at is comparing male and female full-time workers. Actually, what explains most of that gap is two things. One is the gender segregation of occupations, looking back, the women more likely to be nurses than men, men more likely to be doctors than women, particularly in some fields of medicine now, that’s shifting. Or, women are more likely to be the teachers, men more likely to be the principals. That’s one factor: the gender segregation of occupations, and the differential pay that male-dominated occupations receive as opposed to female-dominated occupations.

The other big factor is, if you compare across occupations, why there are bigger gender gaps in some occupations than others. Claudia Goldin, who is probably the leading economist on the gender wage gap, and an economist here at Harvard, she has highlighted that it is really rewarding for time-intensive work. I’m going to try to explain something very complicated within just a minute, but I’ll actually refer you, after this, if you want to check out Claudia Golden has this wonderful Freakonomics interview that you can check out online, where she explains this in more depth. But in her most recent research, one of the things that she’s highlighted is that if you compare occupations, and two examples might be pharmacists versus lawyers. Pharmacists, the 20-hour-a-week pharmacist makes about half what a 40-hour-a-week pharmacist makes. And there are very few, there are virtually no gender differences in what pharmacists make. But, if you look at lawyers, the 50-hour-a-week lawyer tends to make a lot less than half, or the 40- or 50-hour-a-week lawyer tends to make a lot less than half what the 80- or 100-hour-a-week lawyer makes. That’s where you tend to see, within the law, if you look at lawyers at large, you’ll see a greater gender difference in pay between lawyers. But part of that is men and women self-selecting into more and less time-intensive occupations.

Okay, so what does this have to do with negotiations and career negations? What I want to suggest is that what’s really important, if we’re thinking about promoting gender equity in the workplace, through negotiation, we want to broaden our focus beyond just negotiating pay. Yes, negotiate your pay, in particular, if you’re realizing that you might be underpaid relative to your colleagues or relative to your market value, that’s really important. But if we want to think about promoting gender equity from a career negotiation perspective, we want to make sure that we’re talking about negotiating one’s career advancement in terms of developmental opportunities for one’s role, leadership opportunities, how do you advance in your career into those high-authority positions that are the highest paying. Right?

Second, another really important topic, is workload and work flexibility so that women, or any caregiver who is balancing commitments to home, it could be kids, it could be parents, it could be siblings, or others, when people are balancing those commitments, how do they negotiate arrangements where they can remain continuously employed and upwardly mobile on their career trajectory? I just want to highlight that. I think it’s really important that we open our lens, looking much more broadly beyond pay.

I quickly want to move, with that kind of big-picture perspective, I want to talk about how do we think about gender in negotiations. Again, going back to the image of these women, “they’re not negotiating, it’s something to do with the women.” What the evidence overwhelmingly shows is that gender effects on negotiation aren’t about being a man or being a woman, or self-presenting as a man or a woman. If I just invite men and women into the lab, and I’m looking for gender effects, men and women are not going to reliably behave differently enough for me to get effects. Sometimes, as we all experience in life, women are more competitive than men, men are more cooperative than women. Both men’s and women’s behavior vary across situations. We can get reliable gender effects in negotiations, but they rely, they depend on situational circumstances. And I’m going to talk for a couple minutes about two key characteristics of situations that will help you predict whether gender effects might emerge.

One is whether, and how, gender is salient and relevant within the situation. This is an opportunity for me to talk about variation in cultural context. Let’s take a new father negotiating family leave, or a flexible work arrangement, in Norway versus Korea. Right? Those are two really different situations because of the degree to which, not only is there a whole institutional context that supports family leave within Norway, but there are also social and cultural norms that support fatherhood in a very different way than Korea. Gender is more likely to play a role in that negotiation in a Korean context in a way that would be probably more stigmatizing for the father in Korea to do something like that, than for the father in Norway.

We’ve also looked, for instance, at women negotiating for higher pay in the United States versus the Arab Gulf region. Interestingly, we replicate the same effects that we find in the United States, in general, when we ran these studies, and, in particular, we found that women were in a domestic hiring situation, women and men applying to jobs within national businesses in the Arab Gulf, and men and women applying to employment in national businesses in the United States. What we find is that men are more inclined to negotiate for higher pay. The reason, both in the United States and in these studies, is that, what it turns out, is that people find it unattractive when the woman tries to negotiate for higher pay. But it is more socially acceptable for the guy. That’s another thing that’s also really important. It’s a reason why women are more hesitant to negotiate for higher pay. It isn’t because they lack skills, or confidence, it’s because within the social-cultural context, it is more appropriate for men to negotiate for higher pay than it is for women.

Interestingly, in the Untied States, and in the Arab Gulf, they both find the women kind of not really nice, not concerned enough with organizational relationships, when she negotiates for higher pay. But in the Arab Gulf, we also found that they perceived the woman as immodest because that’s a cultural prescription for women in that region, and that they appeared materialistic because in that region, there’s a very strong expectation of a male breadwinner model. If she’s asking for more money, some people might think she just wants it for herself, or her own spending money, rather than for contributing to her family.

You want to think about, within the context, what are the gender norms that are going to influence what are people’s expectations with regards to what is negotiable, but then also, people’s ideas about what is appropriate behavior within the cultural context. I’m using national culture, but you can also think that there are some organizational cultures where there’s variation in terms of how men and women are advancing in their careers in the organization, and also what is appropriate and attractive behavior. Now you want to think about whether gender is salient and relevant in the context.

You also want to think about ambiguity. This is something, again, for both individuals and organizations to think about. There are three different sources of ambiguity. One is ambiguity about who the negotiators are, another is ambiguity about how to negotiate, and a third is ambiguity about what is negotiable.

When there’s ambiguity about who the negotiators are, if I don’t know somebody, I may, consciously or not, try to take information from their gender to infer how this person is going to behave. If it’s a woman, I might imagine she’s less likely to negotiate for pay, or she won’t be as assertive, or she may not expect as much. Or I may have assumptions about what she’s going to want to negotiate. The more I know about her as an individual and a professional, the less likely that I’m going to use her gender as information to fill in the blanks about my expectations.

Ambiguity is about this question of how do you even ask for one of those overseas work assignments, or access to work with a particular type of client, or for some sort of increase in compensation. In some organizational contexts, that’s transparent, in others, you have to kind of know somebody to know what to do. What the research on pay negotiation shows is that those gender effects and the propensity to initiate a pay negotiation go away if you make clear to men and women what the negotiating norms are. Because then women know what is socially appropriate within the context, and aren’t as concerned about the backlash.

Finally, ambiguity about what is really important. Ambiguity about what is really what’s negotiable. It’s really important, again, if it’s ambiguous in the negotiating context, one, gender can kind of fill in the blanks with regards to people’s expectations about what is appropriate, or accepted rewards or opportunities for different types of people. We all have a propensity to compare people to similar others. If we tend to do that, and you’re in an environment where men, on average, tend to be given different types of rewards or opportunities than women do, in ambiguity, you might end up having gender norms fill in the blanks.

Social networks also play a role, so let’s talk about pay for a minute. Let’s say you’re in an environment, be it an organization, or an industry, where men tend to get paid, on average, more than women. But when men and women are approaching the job market, the women ask other women about what they should ask for in a pay negotiation because they’re closer to women, and men go and ask men. Well, they might just come back to the negotiation with different numbers. That’s not discrimination, but that’s an example of how gender, and gender social networks, could influence your negotiation preparations.

I’m going to close with just a few, some tactical ideas at the negotiation level, with what you can do strategically. And then with some quick organizational or even policy-level reflection.

At an individual level, what’s really important, what I say, is enhance your negotiation through relationships, and your relationships through negotiation. Enhance your negotiations through relationships means go out there and talk to people who can give you information, who can give you advice, who can give you social support, or advocate for you in your negotiations. That’s really important. In any relationship, it’s not all about what other people can do for you, right? You want to, as you enter your negotiation and you prepare your pitch, and I’m not imagining a single 20-minute conversation, when I interview executives about their career negotiations, they tend to be with multiple people, and over the course of weeks, if not months. Because the higher you go up in an organization, these are complicated negotiations. But if you make your case, whether it’s in an individual conversation or over time with colleagues about a leadership opportunity, you want to be thinking constantly about two things. One, why are they going to think it’s legitimate for you to be negotiating for what you’re negotiating, or asking for, or proposing what you’re negotiating? And secondly, how are they going to understand that you’re taking their perspective? That what you’re proposing meets their interest, or meets the organization’s interest? That what you’re proposing is mutually beneficial. And what we’ve shown in our research is that if women do both of those things, if they’re negotiating requests that are perceived as legitimate, and they’ve also recognized that the woman is taking the other side’s perspective and making a mutually beneficial proposal. But that enables women both to ask for what they want, and make the impression that they want to make a negotiation.

Now, some people might cringe and say, why are you giving special advice to women in these negotiations? If you look at classic Roger Fisher Getting to Yes, or Deepak Malhotra’s and Max Bazerman’s Negotiation Genius, or Leigh Thompson’s Heart and Mind of a Negotiator, that is at their core what they would advise the best negotiator to do. The best negotiators are going to appeal to legitimate standards for the negotiations, and they’re going to take the other party’s interest into account. The nice thing is that the best advice for women is actually very consistent with the best advice for negotiators. It’s just maybe particularly important for women that if they wing it, that, unfortunately, some of these gender norms may be more constraining for them, in some contexts, than for men.

As we think about this, final takeaways, what predicts negotiating performance, it’s preparation and experience. It is not somebody’s gender. When you’re preparing strategically for career negotiations, you want to reduce ambiguity about who are the negotiating parties, reduce ambiguity about you, reduce the ambiguity about your negotiating counterparts. Reduce the ambiguity about what is negotiable, and how to negotiate. Enhance your negotiations through your relationships and your relationships through your negotiation. Also, don’t get too narrowly focused on pay. Make sure that what you’re negotiating for is your career trajectory. Ultimately, your career trajectory is going to have a lot more influence on your lifetime earnings, than whether you get a few more thousand dollars at some particular pivot point in your career.

From an organizational perspective, you can also think about how do we negotiate, excuse me, how do you reduce ambiguity about what is negotiable in terms of career advancement. What are the paths to career advancement. And also, if you think about it, people have to rely on who knows who, or social networks, and if there are some groups who are rich with people just like themselves in an organization, they’re going to be more on the “in” in terms of getting that type of information. Even if you can’t change the entire social network of an organization, you can have a chief talent officer who takes it upon themselves to make sure that everybody’s clear about paths to promotion, and ways of opportunity. What are the pay norms around particular things. I mean, this is also important in today’s day and age, also, I think, where I think a lot of people, because of the press, are wondering whether there’s discrimination. And it can also just be really healthy for organizations, the more transparency there is about these things. And I don’t mean transparency everybody gets the same thing, but more openness to conversation, and greater understanding about what the norms are, and the practices. That’s also going to, I mean, that’s just good HR practice in general, and talent management practice in general. But it also can reduce fears of discrimination.

At the policy level, the Obama administration did some things that have been rolled back by the Trump administration, but you’re starting to see, as in many progressive policy areas, more action at the city and state level. For instance, Massachusetts enacted a bill to establish pay equity that looked, for instance, at bargaining dynamics, particularly with where they’re not requiring people to explain what their last pay was, but to be able to negotiate based on what their market value was in a negotiation. There’s also a bill in Pennsylvania that promotes pay transparency and prohibits retaliation against employees who ask about or discuss wages with other co workers. There are ways at not only the individual level, but also the organizational level, and then finally the policy level, to really think about how do we enhance transparency and use negotiation as a tool for maximizing career advancement in mutually beneficial ways with work places.

Q: Are there particular industries or sectors that have made significantly more progress on the pay negotiation equity issue than others? I’m thinking the technology sector.

Technology sector, yeah. And would you think of that as a positive one or ... I would say, the tech sector, in terms of sectors, one of the biggest claims towards sectors is the one I highlighted with regards to the degree of variation in time-intensive work, right? And so at a job level, what you’ll tend to see are rewards, financial rewards, to time-intensive work. And if men tend to be more likely to enter those types of positions, then you’ll tend to get a gender difference as a gross level. Where you’re more likely to see gender difference, and this isn’t industry specific, but is in more ambiguous sources of compensation. You’d be less likely to see it in things like salary, which is relatively comparable, than in things like a bonus or equity. When there’s more ambiguity around those things, you’re more likely to see gender differences in outcomes.

Again, in organizations where there’s more ambiguity, say, with regard to how does one get assigned to work that is perceived as higher value, or the type of work that makes you visible so that you start getting into a star-level compensation, that might be another space where you’d see gender differences. Another place where you might see gender differences is if there are stereotypes, I don’t have close data on this, but I’m going to use an example, let’s say there are stereotypes about computer programmers, and genius computer programmers. If the genius computer programmer is stereotyped as a guy, and then people have some idea, oh, wow, he’s really hot. That type of worker is really hot, and the ideal worker is kind of gendered, you might end up with people getting paid more because of this market perception that that type is something that we have to pay for more.

I have to say, what’s really important, also, going back to this stuff, is that if you look at organizations, I think most organizations when they go in are not going to find gender pay gaps, it’s not equally across the board. What they need to look at, where you’d be most likely to find them, are, again, in gender differences favoring men, which is typically what you’d find, is in really masculine stereotyped work spaces, where there’s ambiguity in the compensation norms.

Interestingly, I’ll just throw this out, interestingly, there’s some growing evidence to show that women can close gender gaps, and even sometimes reverse them in some of these masculine stereotypical jobs, if they are the exception. There are firms that are really trying to get women into these roles that men have dominated, and if you’re a female star in one of these, scarcity can kind of drive up your bargaining power.

Q: Did any of your studies delve into the differences for people of color? 

Yeah, this is really important. Thank you for asking this. I held myself back looking at the clock when I was talking about the research that we conducted in the MENA region, but part of the Middle East and North Africa region, particularly the Arab Gulf, part of the purpose of that research actually was motivated by a desire to look at the implications for men who were not from the dominant group. I’m going to back up and I’m going to answer you specifically, for instance, with regard to African Americans in the United States, and then I want to draw a connection back to this research in the Arab Gulf.

Similar to the general pattern of evidence that’s been shown with regard to women and negotiation, a couple of patterns, one is that women may be more hesitant than men to negotiate for higher pay, there’s also evidence that suggests that they encounter more resistance than men when they negotiate for higher pay. There’s new research in the Journal of Applied Psychology showing that African Americans have a similar experience. African Americans studies with white peers were encountered more, my memory is that they also showed more hesitance to negotiate, but then they also encountered more resistance in their pay negotiations. I think what’s really important about this, is that we not get too over focused about gender and understand gender as, basically, a source of social status. It’s a status linked social identity.  

And not to get too geeky about this, but if you look really carefully at the stereotypes associated with gender, they are really, if you look in the psychological and the sociological, they are really interpreted through this lens of status. Men are expected to be assertive and competitive and in charge. And women are expected to be deferential and cooperative and concerned for others. Those are also the stereotypes that we generally hold, also, not stereotypes descriptively, but stereotypes prescriptively, of other lower-status groups. And it’s because it serves the social hierarchy if the dominant groups are assertive and leader-like and in charge, and if the lower status groups are more cooperative and deferential and concerned for others.

What we found in the MENA region, interestingly, was we looked at whether the men in the Arab Gulf were applying for, we did this experimentally, not in a field study, but we manipulated experimental context to look at whether they were negotiating for higher pay in a situation in which they had an outside offer, but the employer was a national company versus global company. In the Arab Gulf, in some contexts, male nationals can be negatively stereotyped as less-good workers. The ideal worker in these global corporations is stereotyped as American or European. Sometimes both men and women from the Arab Gulf, but unfortunately men, in some respects, more than women, get negatively stereotyped as workers. What we found was similar effects, again. That they felt more inhibited about negotiating for higher pay when they were anticipating a global employer, then a national employer. The study participants found it less appropriate for them to be negotiating for higher pay with a global employer than with a national employer. And the reasons why were the same ones that I was describing for gender, that is, they said this person just appears not sufficiently concerned about organizational relationships. They don’t seem to be cooperative enough. This is the expectation of people.

I think what’s really important, beyond gender or culture, another person wrote in with a question about sexual orientation, or nonbinary gender identities, I think what’s most important is to think about status in context, and the way in which one’s status as a worker privileges you to ask for higher rewards and opportunities. Again, for organizational managers to think about, are there types of workers in my context that feel more privileged to seek out and promote themselves for opportunities, than do other potentially very talented employees, who are kind of holding themselves back for fear of backlash, or being perceived as too pushy, or something like that.

Q: You mentioned the options of legislation and policies to support greater parity. I live in New York City, which passed one of these laws prohibiting employers from asking your past salary. And my experience has been that many employers are now, instead of asking that, they are asking what your minimum salary expectations are, or what you expect to be paid, which seems to me, to be the same question, just worded slightly differently. It suggests to me that employers are either not aware of the ways in which they’re institutionalizing these disparities, or they’ve just decided they don’t care. I’m curious to know whether your research has dealt with that at all; whether employers are aware of the many ways in which they’re making it difficult for women to obtain that kind of pay transparency.

That’s a great question. These laws are so new. We don’t yet have really good data on them, but the dynamic that you’re describing is one that’s well studied in the negotiation literature in general, and that is that you can think about, particularly in something like a pay negotiation, as the zone of possible agreements. I’m guessing, if you came out of Kennedy School recently enough, you might have taken Brian Mandell, or Kelsey Hong, or some of these classes, and you would have talked about this, the zone of possible agreement, right? What does the bargaining range look like? And the bargaining range, in a simple, single-issue negotiation, is going to be defined by each party’s walk-away value. The walkaway value from the employer’s perspective is what would I have to pay somebody else if I couldn’t hire this candidate. And from the candidate’s perspective, it’s what other job could I take if I didn’t take the job with this employer?

What I think is really important, is that’s an anchoring tactic. Oh, what’s your minimum salary that you would take? I think what you have to do is, in those types of situations, is re-anchor the negotiation. Re-anchor the negotiation on your value within the market. Or, also, what it would cost them in order to get somebody with your equivalent talents in that situation. Those types of tactics may be a reaction to the law, I think they’re also just kind of age old. What the law is doing is taking away one of multiple anchoring tactics that employers would do to drive the bargaining range down as close as possible to your walkaway.

Another thing that I’d emphasize, and I think particularly for Kennedy School graduates, again, is that in the nonprofit sector, in the government sector, there actually is often not a lot of room to negotiate these things. I think what’s really important, particularly early career, I’m not saying give up on the pay negotiation, you should make sure that you do that research really well so that you know you’re being paid appropriately and you feel good about that, because it’s not only right, it’s also important for your working relationship with the organization. But again, I would make sure, particularly if this is not a lucrative, an early career, particularly, lucrative job, make sure you’re getting the experiences that you want to get. I mean, negotiate for, there’s a whole host of things, leadership opportunities, early review if you believe you’re going to be a star contributor, international experiences, rotational assignments, an executive coach if you’re entering a new space. I mean, there’s a whole variety of things. You want to think really broadly, again, about this kind of long term, how are you setting yourself up on this trajectory.

I think this is also particularly important for the younger generation as employees, because very few of them, and I see this in the last 10 years particularly with the MPPs. I’ve done a lot of teaching in the MPP core, and when you ask people in what sector do you anticipate working, 75 percent of Kennedy School students say that they anticipate working in more than one sector. I mean, put aside more than one organization. They see their careers as belonging to themselves, and not to particular organizations. As you negotiate these jobs, what you want to negotiate is for opportunities that are going to enhance your career trajectory and your capacity to contribute in the ways that you want to demonstrate public leadership or public service.

Q: I wanted to ask for your advice on how to handle, as a manager, interpersonal conversations and negotiations like this. I’ve found in my role, as I’m recruiting here, that when I get female candidates, they’re asking for, in some cases, as little as 50% of what the men applying for the same job are looking for. I’m not in a position to change the policy on what we ask in the screening process, but how do you handle conversations like that, being cognizant of how we all want to be supportive of women in the workplace, and addressing some of these disparities at the individual level?

I think that’s a great question because I’m imaging you’re wondering if you’re at conflict between representing your organization most efficiently, and then representing your values. I think you can, I’m optimistic you can do both at the same time because, candidly, having people in comparable roles who are very unequally paid, it’s just not great for organizations. It can be demoralizing, it can undermine your potential to retain talent. I think that you have to, I think you should think about these negotiations from an organizational perspective, and I think if you are thinking about it from an organizational perspective, even though the organization might, on the margin, end up paying a little more than they would if they just accepted her first offer, I think the organization might actually be better off if you did advise them to say, “I’m not sure how well informed you are about the market value for this.” Or if you came back and said, “Well, compensation is in this range.” Or “If you’re thinking about that compensation, that would typically belong to this type of role. This is, alternately, we’re entertaining your being in a different type of role that would have these types of work expectations and pay.”

One of the people who sent in an early question, a pre-question, said that she found herself in negotiations with herself about her pay. And in particular, not wanting to ask for as much because of concerns about wanting to retain her flexibility. I don’t know whether any of these women that you have in mind would have had this conversation. I’m not sure that’s a bad negotiation with yourself. I think that what is really extremely important, I mean, the 70 cents on the dollar is comparing, 79 cents, whatever it is, is comparing fully employed men and women. When you get down to wealth differences, and you consider the lifetime earning implications of shifting down to part-time work or stepping out of the workplace, those have meaningful implications for one’s earning potential and one’s career trajectory.

This may be a broader point than the specific question that you’re asking, but I do think that it’s really important for women to think very creatively about their negotiations to remain continuously and meaningfully employed. And not to find themselves in a situation where they may make tradeoffs without fully appreciating what the long-term financial implications and career implications of those might be.

Q: My question to you is, as some of us who have lived in these multiple sectors, worked across sectors, moving from the private to the nonprofit sector, as you do think about other negotiation points aside from salary, you already mentioned executive coaching, what are some of the other kind of creative negotiating topics or things that you’ve seen women negotiating on?

Oh, that’s a great question. I recently, we just conducted a whole series of studies looking at what male and female executives negotiate. I’ll highlight two things. We make a distinction between asking, bending, and shaping. Asking are the standard career negotiations that would be well represented by one of these exercises that you do in a negotiation training program. They’re kind of standard issues and options for negotiation, and you need to educate yourself about those. Another category, though, is bending, where what you’re asking for is something that’s really outside of that set of standard issues and options. One surprising finding that emerged across studies, was we found that women were actually doing more bending than men, when we asked them to recount examples of career negotiations. Part of that related to the fact that they were coming up with alternative arrangements to manage work and family that just were not institutionalized within the organization. Sometimes, also, they were negotiating themselves into counter-stereotypical roles. Let’s say that the leadership position within an organization, where it’s always been an engineer, but you’re not an engineer. A lot of women didn’t do engineering undergrad, or for their masters, but you have all of these other competencies that are so relevant to that job, and you could be a great leader, and so a number of the bending negotiations were about saying, “Listen, go with me. I’m going to make you the case why, even though I have a nonstandard background, I can lead this area. Or I can do this really creative different thing, than you might expect of me based on my background.”

In the nonprofit sector, let me get back to that, I imagine you’re going in there for meaning and motivation and to make a difference in the world, so I think you want to think creatively about the roles that you want to play to make that difference. That leads me to shaping, which is this third category of negotiation. Shaping is not just about saying I want an individual exception to the norm. Shaping is about saying I think you should change the organization. It’s really about making a strategic proposal for organizational change, and then explaining the leadership role that you would like to play. For instance, a number of examples related to globalization. I realize that I’m just running one country, but I should be running the region. Or, I’m running one center, but I should really be doing this for the whole agency. We should be looking at this product or service at a global level, not at a regional level. They make a strategic case, and then they make the case for why they should lean on that. As you think about this transition from the private sector, you may be bringing competencies or experiences or networks to the nonprofit sector that are distinctive, that would enable you to lead the organization in a really novel way. I would think, in your negotiations as you transition, whether or not there may be opportunities for you not only to negotiate something distinctive for yourself but actually to negotiate a real strategic opportunity for yourself and for the organization.

Q: I’m much more comfortable and productive when I’m speaking from a genuine voice. I expect that would be the same in salary negotiations as well. I wondered if you could speak at all to what your research has shown in terms of either, say, gendered female styles, or working within and using stereotypical expectations to a negotiator’s advantage in order to get a better outcome. Thank you.

Definitely. One is I think it’s really important to be authentic to yourself. That’s very important. With regard to using a feminine style to an advantage, to one’s advantage, there’s a scholar at Berkeley, Laura Kray, she’s done a lot of research on gender and negotiation, and has looked in particular at these questions of feminine charm versus feminine warmth. And also a sign of guile, you know, flirtation. And what are the implications of those styles for women’s negotiation performance? I think as we might imagine, flirtation, the stereotypical, the super stereotypical modes of being kind of flirtatious, or super warm, super feminine, both of those aren’t so advantageous because the kind of very sexualized flirtatious self-presentation, and then also the super warm maternal, deferential, type of self-presentation tend to be associated with lower competence. We just don’t associate people who, sadly, I mean, we don’t associate maternal warmth or highly sexualized flirtation with high competence. Those can backfire as a result. What she calls feminine charm, which I think would also kind of work for men, men can be charming, too, is advantageous. I think there’s other research beyond this showing that one’s capacity to be in sync with, and connect with, your negotiating counterpart, is to anyone’s advantage. I think, probably, your capacity to do that in a very genuine way will be part of your feminine identity. There’s also interesting research showing that women, two other things I’ll throw in there. One is that there’s research by a woman named [Inaudible], who’s a scholar in Israel, showing that there’s some negotiating advantages for women who feel a consistency between their feminine identity and their work role. And that it can actually be kind of a tax for women if they feel like their feminine identity is in conflict with the negotiating role that they’re playing. Again, I think that kind of reinforces your idea that being authentic is very important.

But as much as being authentic is important, it’s also really important, and this is a second set of studies by Dan Ames and Frank Flynn, Frank Flynn’s at Stanford. I think Dan Aims is at Berkeley, but I might be wrong. They’ve shown that it’s also really important, and also some of my research with Frank Flynn, has shown that it’s not only important to be authentic to yourself, but also to really think about who is your negotiating counterpart. I mean, that goes back to this reducing the ambiguity about who, and targeting, tailoring, your pitch, and your style to your negotiating counterpart. For some people that feels like, yeah, naturally I want to think about the person I’m negotiating with, and I’m going to relate to people who are very different in different ways. Some people don’t feel that way. Some people feel that to be my authentic self, I’m just my same authentic self all the time. That’s actually a personality difference, called self-monitoring. You also probably want to think about, are you somebody who feels authentically comfortable with adapting your style to your negotiating counterpart? Interestingly, the research suggests that that propensity to adapt may be even more advantageous for women than for men. I suspect that relates to this greater need for women than men to read the negotiating context.

Q: Thank you. As we come to the end of the call, I just want to ask one final question. And that has to do with whether you’re optimistic that we can close the gap between men and women and pay. Given all the different factors at play, and all the different stereotypes, what’s your thinking about that?

That’s a profound question. I think that over the long run, I mean, I think we can do a lot more to eliminate … I feel very optimistic about our capacity, certainly in the United States, to reduce pay discrimination, where you have men and women in the same role, and they are differentially rewarded. I mean, that I really feel very optimistic about. The deeper social dynamics around the gender division of household labor are harder. And they’re also socioeconomic. I mean, one thing I’d actually like to highlight is that we’re really talking, in this conversation, I meant to highlight in the beginning, about privileged workers. And that’s the Kennedy School, that’s our alumni community, that’s where we’re at. But, it is a privilege to be able to negotiate your pay and your career trajectory. I really think that, for instance, for less educated workers, lower-wage workers, raising the minimum wage and labor activism to raise wages and standards is probably going to have a much bigger influence on closing the gender wage gap at the lower end of the economic ladder because women are just so, they congregate in these lowest paid occupations. And part of that, again, less-educated women are more likely to be heads of households with children. This has really profound implications for being a single parent and managing continuous employment and being an ideal worker. I mean, there are many women, they pull it off, and I’m not questioning their capacity to do that, but I think if we really, to promote gender equity, it’s a lot of this stuff. Claudia Goldin argues that the last barrier to gender equity in pay is flexible work. I really do think it’s really around these flexible work policies, and the family leave, and then also finding affordable childcare. I mean, those are really, I think, some of the bigger picture questions that we’re facing with regard to the gender pay gap.

Mari Megias:

Great. Well, thank you. On that note, I’d like to close out this Wiener Conference Call. Thank you to everyone who called in.

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