Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change
Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change

Why Do Men Avoid Women Who Negotiate?

Business Woman

Women are often paid less than men because women tend not to negotiate their salaries.

The common response to this is to tell women to negotiate more. The trouble, however, is that men seem to be biased against women who negotiate.

Kevin Drum at The Nation describes a study on the subject.

Their study...found that women's reluctance [to negotiate] was based on an entirely reasonable and accurate view of how they were likely to be treated if they did...."What we found across all the studies is men were always less willing to work with a woman who had attempted to negotiate than with a woman who did not," Bowles said. "They always preferred to work with a woman who stayed mum. But it made no difference to the men whether a guy had chosen to negotiate or not."

Megan McArdle at The Atlanticadds:

When I was in business school, I learned about a case that had been run experimentally. I may hash some of the details, but the gist is that half the classes that used it read about "John" facing a tough management problem, while the other half read about "Jane" facing the same problem. No detail other than the names had been changed.

But what a difference a name makes! "John" was a strong, thoughtful leader making tough choices about what was best for his group. "Jane" was a headstrong bitch who was wildly overstepping her authority and generally making a mess of things.

No woman is unaware of these dynamics. When I'm in group interviews or meetings, frequently I will start talking at the same time as a man starts talking. Almost always, I shut up and let the man finish talking, and hope I'll get a chance to ask a question later.

Oh, those awful men!

The question that should occur to any thinking person, however, is very simple: Why are men less willing to work with a woman who attempts to negotiate? If this is simply a counterproductive bias, there should be a thriving contrarian market for outspoken women. After all, the market would be discriminating against them and you could make a killing hiring these women.

But what if rationality doesn't stop at the doorstep of mankind? What we're seeing here is a trail of good reasons. Women are paid less for the very good reason that they negotiate less. Women negotiate less for the very good reason that they are treated badly if they negotiate more. So isn't it at least possible that men treat negotiator women differently for a good reason?

I'm not sure what that reason might be. It could be that negotiating signals something about a woman that it doesn't signal in men. It certainly marks a woman as an outlier, different from other women.

Could it signify other outlying characteristics? Again, I don't think I know the answer. But I don't think its safe to assume that generally men are just stupidly prejudiced against negotiating women.

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