Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Subtleties of Discrimination, or Why Women Don't Ask

There is an absolutely fascinating article in tomorrow's Washington Post, "Salary, Gender, and the Social Cost of Haggling." Linda Babcock, an economist at Carnegie Mellon University, became interested in how men and women negotiate differently when female graduate students came to her and pointed out that the male students were teaching their own courses while the female students were acting as teaching assistants. Upon investigation she learned that the male students had each approached the dean and requested to teach their own course. JSM used the book Babcock wrote based on her research, "Women Don't Ask," in his negotiation course back when he was a professor at a b-school, and I highly recommend it. Her research goes a long way toward explaining the residual salary differences between women and men once education, experience, and job tenure are taken into account.

But the really interesting part of the article is the follow-up research, addressing the question of why women don't negotiate. It turns out that "across all the were always less willing to work with a woman who had attempted to negotiate than with a woman who did not. 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." Some studies found that when women thought a woman would be making the hiring decisions they were much more likely to negotiate.

In other words, women don't negotiate because they don't get the same results as men do. They may even harm their career by attempting to negotiate their salary.

Women may be playing the game optimally, but that doesn't mean the game is fair.


SilverRain said...

Maybe women don't get the same results as men when they negotiate because they don't know how to negotiate. I've had amazing success negotiating my salary and other benefits. Most of the time, it's just a matter of showing that I'm worth it and being willing to ask in a way that other people don't take badly. If, on the other hand, I was just negotiating my salary because I wanted more money, and wasn't able to show how I benefited the company, some of my bosses would probably wouldn't have been so accomodating.

SAM said...

It may be true that more women than men don't know how to negotiate, because they haven't had a lot of experience or haven't seen examples of how to negotiate well.

But in the study, partipants were given descriptions of hypothetical candidates who had attempted to negotiate or not, varying only the gender of the candidate.

This could be consistent with the following:
If women in general were less skilled at negotiation, and participants believed that women in general muck up negotiations, then the study would reflect statistical discrimination which wouldn't impact a particular woman if she did a good job at negotiating.

Which is possible. But that doesn't mean it's likely.