The Blog

Negotiating Gender Bias: Why We All Need to Stand Up and Speak Out

Make a commitment that next time you hear a female friend or colleague describing an assertive women as aggressive, pushy or a 'ball-breaker', to take her aside and say why this view has to change.

A recent article by Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg called 'Speaking While Female' in the New York Times discusses the worrying issues behind why women stay quiet at work. In short, it outlines the fact that when women do speak up in the workplace they are more likely to be ignored, interrupted or shot down than their male colleagues.

It also goes on to explore research by Brescoll, a psychologist from Yale University, who discovered that when professional men and women were asked to evaluate the competence of chief executives who voiced their opinions more or less frequently than their peers, a worrying trend emerged.

Brescoll found that male executives who spoke more often than their peers were rewarded with 10 percent higher ratings of competence. However, when female executives spoke more than their peers, both men and women punished them with 14 percent lower ratings.

The findings of the article back up what we have seen in the negotiation field for many years. Over 10 years ago Babcock and Laschever published 'Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide' which explored the penalty that many women face if they are deemed to be too assertive at the negotiation fact Chapter three of the book is called 'Nice Girls Don't Ask', perhaps a reflection of the view held subconsciously by many that women who assertively ask for what they are want are pushy, aggressive, unreasonable or in some cases, simply unlikeable.

As the owner of a negotiation training company, I have seen first-hand that men and women are both just as capable of being amazing negotiators. It is a skill that can be learnt and with practice becomes easier... however, if the negative perceptions of assertiveness are preventing women even getting to the negotiation table in the first place then this is of huge concern.

The fallout is that many women have become hugely concerned with how they might be perceived if they stand up and ask for what they want, particularly in workplace negotiations. As a result, numerous pieces of research tell us that women are therefore statistically less likely to ask in the first place for fear of how it might impact their career or likeability. When you combine this with the fact that when women do ask we tend to undervalue our worth compared to our male colleagues and ask for less, this creates a worrying platform in which women are potentially not fulfilling their potential or accessing what they deserve or are entitled to. The implications of this simply in relation to salary negotiations might go some of the way to explaining the current gender pay gap.

Changing people's perceptions isn't going to happen overnight. As the Grant and Sandberg piece suggests there are practical ways that employers can start to encourage women to speak out and to support them in doing so... but it will take time to really bed in any changes and to see a cultural shift in an organisation. Until then, women can start to take charge by learning to negotiate more effectively...and actually by simply negotiating in the first place.

A few top tips to be heard at the negotiation table:

1: Do your research: Know and understand the issues, priorities and the people involved...and go beyond the obvious... think creatively about what other issues could be used to seal the deal

2: Just Ask: What is the worst that can happen?

3: When you do ask, aim higher: Add on 15%, ask for a few extra days, request a bigger might be surprised at what they agree to

4: Have alternative proposals at the ready: This will prevent your mind going blank and allow you to respond to possible rejection and stimulate further discussion

And finally...

5: Support other women: Unfortunately research shows us that it's not just men that penalise assertive women... women do too. It's time to not only challenge the views of the men in the room but also our own. Make a commitment that next time you hear a female friend or colleague describing an assertive women as aggressive, pushy or a 'ball-breaker', to take her aside and say why this view has to change. If women all work together on this, we will be a greater force to start to influence male attitudes too.

Negotiation: Is it a Man's Game? To find out more about advantageSPRING's seminars on gender and negotiation visit