Three Ways Women Can Negotiate Better On Behalf Of Themselves

By Glynnis MacNicol
Apr 20, 2014 · 4 min read

Imagine you’re sitting in an office about meet with your boss or future employer regarding your salary. You think you deserve a raise, have reams of evidence to prove it, and the negotiations are about to begin.

Now imagine you are in the same office, with the same person, negotiating for the same increase in salary, except this time you are doing it on behalf of someone else.

Are you a woman? Did you just breathe a big sigh of relief?

According to Hannah Riley Bowles, a professor at the Center for Public Leadership and Faculty Director of Women & Power at the Harvard Kennedy School, you are not alone.

“Women do substantially better negotiating for others than for themselves,” says Bowles, who will be leading a one-day session focusing on Women and Career Negotiations at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, June 19.

“It’s got to do with social stereotypes,” says Bowles, “we love the image of Mama Bear: women advocating on behalf of others, looking out for other’s best interest. It all fits with the feminine ideal.”

Not surprisingly, Bowles’s research (and a growing body of other data, frequently cited by Sheryl Sandberg, Linda Babcock, Gloria Feldt and more) confirms that when women do advocate for themselves they get a far different response than men. And therein lies the rub, because while both men and women come off as a little less likable and a little more demanding when they ask for a raise or advocate for themselves financially it’s women who pay the price for that loss of likability. Literally.

Says Bowles: “What we tend to find for women is that those negative interpersonal impressions demotivate people from working with her.”

This proves disturbingly true for even the most successful women. The book Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential includes a study done by Stanford Professor Frank Flynn in which he asked his class to judge Heidi Roizen, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist. For half the class Flynn changed Heidi’s name to Howard, but left all the other information the same. The result? While the students liked Howard fine, they not only didn’t like Heidi, they didn’t want to work with her and — most importantly — wouldn’t hire her.

Bowles says it’s no surprise then that some women approach the negotiating table with great apprehension: they are merely reading the room correctly.

“It makes sense that women are more reticent to negotiate for themselves than men,” says Bowles, “if the social costs of doing so are greater for women than they are for men.”

These social costs may account for the stark difference between men and women when it comes to asking for more money. In a study for her book Women Don’t Ask , Linda Babcock found that, once received, only 7% of women attempted to negotiate a job offer, while 57% of men did.

Of course, women can and do successfully negotiate for themselves every day. And many quite enjoy it! But for those of you to who regard the negotiating table with apprehension, Bowles has some tips.

1) Be yourself: “Women have to make sure that they’re true to themselves. That’s not an easy advice to give. But if you find yourself coming up with things that you’re going to say that are a lot different than you really are, that’s a red flag.”

2) Enhance your negotiations through relationships, and your relationships through negotiations. In other words, create networks. “When I do interviews with executive women about their career negotiations, they don’t look like our experiments where there’s this short interaction between two people that occurs over the course of minutes. Usually when executive women describe career negotiations they are talking about conversations they’ve had with numerous people over the course of weeks, if not months or years. You have to build a coalition of support for yourself. Some support is just in the form of information (what should I be asking for? how should I ask for it?), and other support will come in the form of advocacy (who will back you up; who will put in a good, influential, word for you).”

3) In the words of Sheryl Sandberg (and Bowles should know, Sandberg tapped her to teach negotiation skills in Lean In): Think I, talk we. “You should go in to your negotiation with a very clear sense of what you want. However, when you do talk it shouldn’t be all about what you want and why you think you deserve it. You’ve got to turn it around and explain to the person you’re trying to persuade why you’re negotiating is legitimate in their eyes and demonstrate that you’re taking on their perspective, and thinking about your relationship with them. We found that when women explained why what they are asking for is legitimate, and signaled concern for organizational relationships, they both increased people’s inclination to give them what they were asking for and improved the social impression that they made.” The result: “people were more inclined to work with them than if they negotiated straight out.”

Or as another wise woman once said: “It’s asking for the taking.

Hannah Riley Bowles will be leading a one-day session on Women and Career Negotiations at Harvard Law School on June 19. @ Medium

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