Book Review: Negotiation Gender Disparities

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Negotiation

Gender disparities in the workplace in terms of salary and position can be attributed at least in part to the willingness of women to negotiate better salaries and ask for what they want. Babcock & Laschever (2007) realized this trend during preliminary research, and Women Don't Ask is an extension of empirical research revealing the phenomenon. The authors hypothesize why there are differences in male and female negotiation strategies -- or lack thereof. For example, women are socialized to foster collaboration and avoid confrontation. The long-term consequences of women not negotiating include perpetuation of gender disparities in income and social status. Because economic, social, and political institutions remain male-dominated, it is important for women to understand how to use patriarchal negotiation and communication strategies.

One of the issues discussed by Babcock & Laschever (2007) is the "accumulation of disadvantage," (p. 9). Like a domino effect, women who accept a low starting salary immediately after graduation or entering a new profession will be locked into lower pay for the rest of their lives. This is because wage increases are incremental based on percentages, so women at lower levels have a hard time bumping themselves up into a salary category on par with their peers. Also, wage increases depend on aggressive and determined negotiating. If women continue to take a passive approach to earnings, they might never receive pay increases at the same rate as their male counterparts. The results extend far beyond annual earnings, and impact the quality of life for women throughout their lives.

Furthermore, research shows that not negotiating has a net negative impact on the social status of women. Candidates and employees who are assertive and ask directly for what they want are respected more than those who do not (Babcock & Laschever, 2007, p. 10). The status of women is impacted not only in the worldplace but in social and domestic spheres as well. Women who do not negotiate to ask for what they are worth on paper are also not negotiating to ask for what they need at home and in the bedroom. Frustration over assuming the bulk of household duties is one of the overall effects of not negotiating.

It is important to change social values and gender norms related to women's communication and behavior. Women need to be raised to value themselves and their work more. Household work is a perfect example of how willingness to be submissive leads to gross inequities in the society. Women are taught that domestic chores are a matter of course in their lives, without realizing that domestic work is still work. Free labor in the domestic sphere is akin to domestic servitude, and most households do not question the value of domestic labor. Time is money, which is why women need to negotiate for less time doing childcare and laundry when they share their home with a partner.

A cornerstone of the Babcock & Laschever (2007) research is that women "feel uncomfortable using negotiation to advance their interests," (p. 11). Because they feel uncomfortable, they avoid starting the key conversations that would initiate their advancements in status or salary. The women wait until they are asked politely, rather than coming right out and asking directly for what they want. Men in positions of power are not going to demure or defer to their subordinates, no matter what their gender. It would be helpful if Babcock & Laschever (2007) provided some indication of possible racial or ethnic differences between the wiliness to negotiate among different groups of women.

Women are socialized to focus on the needs of others, rather than on the needs of the self (Babcock & Laschever, 2007). Therefore, changing the ways young girls are socialized is a critical first step towards changing the behaviors and attitudes of women toward negotiating. Because the authors did find that younger generations of women are actually less likely than their senior counterparts to negotiate in business employment situations, it is important to address childrearing.

Established ideas of "appropriate female behavior" also impact choices and attitudes in salary negotiations (Babcock & Laschever, 2007, p. 12). Acting demurely, modestly, and selflessly are practically universal standards of female behavior, as women who speak up for themselves might be thought of as "pushy," (p. 12). There is a deep conflict between what women know to be appropriate behavior, and what women know to be the backlash against their exercising their rights. The purpose of Women Don't Ask includes the following: to expose the extent of the problem; to outline the reasons for the problem; to explain the effects of the problem; and to offer potential solutions to the problem of women not negotiating.

Theme or Argument

It is impossible to disagree with the author's argument, given that there are real disparities in the workplace that can be attributed to the socialization of women against being assertive. Many of the findings in Women Don't Ask are disturbing: there are stereotypes that women do not perform well when they have children, for instance. Some research reveals that men are valued for their potential, while women are rated on their performance. This leads to greater numbers of men being promoted than women, and explains why women shift companies rather than move up in the ranks of an organization.

Two things are necessary for the situation to change. First, the culture needs to change. Young girls need to be taught that speaking up is a desirable, even necessary, quality. Being demure needs to be socialized out of women, and assertiveness must be taught so that women can usurp patriarchal authority. Second, organizational cultures need to change in response to broader social changes. Unless organizations change their culture and policy, women will continue to be stymied by outmoded patriarchal ideals of what is appropriate behavior. Flexible work scheduling is one of the cornerstones of making the workplace more hospitable. For example, Deloitte and Touche, an accounting firm, implemented a flexible work schedule program and it resulted in the tripling of female senior partners and the elimination in the gender gap in turnover rates (Babcock & Laschever, 2007, p. 17). It was not only an ethically appropriate decision, but a financially feasible one because the company saved $250 million in costs associated with training and re-hiring personnel due to previously high rates of turnover by female colleagues.

One of the core arguments in Women Don't Ask is that change is possible. While it seems frustrating that sexism has perpetuated, it is empowering to know that women can take personal responsibility for change by altering their communication styles and mustering the courage to ask for what they deserve. The book is addressed both to female employees, but also to employers seeking to change organizational culture for the better -- whether for profit or ethical objectives.

Change is possible at the cultural level, but it may take a generation or two to reap the rewards. Children still perceive people in power as being male, and therefore react to men and women differently. The authors cite research related to children's gender schemas, which are formed at an early age. Schemas are created when women are perceived as performing most of the housework, for instance (Babcock & Laschever, 2007, p. 17). Women who change their names at marriage, and women who allow their husbands to do most of the driving are also buying into patriarchal structures and passing those schemas down to their children. Men occupy roles of power, even implicit power such as the power to fix things that are broken around the house. This is absolutely true, but unfortunately a difficult problem to solve given the deeply ingrained sexism that permeates society. Tracing the problem to its root causes, the authors continually show that boys grow up believing they are in control of life, and are in charge of fixing things and driving toward the future. Girls learn that they are passive receptors, and must wait their turn.

The authors point out that women usually expect to be invited or asked. This underlying assumption is at the root cause of the problem with women's communication style. Women need to learn that life is not fair, and especially in the business and political realms. Web surveys have revealed that women unfortunately persist in believing that it is preferable to wait to be asked than to come right out and ask for something (Babcock & Laschever, 2007, p. 17). When asked, many women are unaware that the problem exists and do not realize that their situations could be changed if they learned how to be more assertive.

Men who are interviewed reveal strikingly different methods of communicating and negotiating to create win-win opportunities. This is true outside of the workplace, too. Men are skilled at negotiating contracts for work performed on their homes, for example. The gender differences in communication and negotiation styles are similar across different nations, too. Therefore, the arguments laid forth in Women Don't Ask are generalizable and valid.

Evaluation… [END OF PREVIEW]

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