Before Sheryl Sandberg became Facebook’s chief operating officer, she had to agree to the terms of her contract, including compensation. Facebook’s founder and chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, had made an offer, which Sandberg, then vice-president of Google, thought was fair. They had been discussing Facebook’s mission and Zuckerberg’s vision for the future, and as Sandberg describes in her 2013 book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, “I was dying to accept the job.”
She had no intention of negotiating a higher salary.
“I was afraid of doing anything that might botch the deal,” Sandberg writes. “Was it worth it when I knew that ultimately I was going to accept the offer? I concluded it was not.”
But both Sandberg’s husband and her brother-in law told her to negotiate. Her brother-in-law asked her: “Why are you going to make less than any man would make to do the same job?”
She realized, “No man at my level would consider taking the first offer.”
Sandberg then “negotiated hard” and got a better offer.
Her reticence to negotiate is not uncommon. It’s well known that women, fearful of being labelled barracudas or bitches, are overwhelmingly less likely than men to bargain for a better salary (though they will negotiate over the “softer” issues of flex time, vacation and working hours). As a result, starting salaries in the private sector tend to be slightly higher for men than women, and then stay that way – creating a wage gap right out of the gate.
The repercussions are long-term, not only in terms of earning power and financial independence, but also when it comes to reinforcing gender stereotypes at home. When Canadians struggling with the high costs of child care (which costs as much as $1,394 a month for an infant in St. John’s, for example) decide one spouse will stay home, generally it’s the lower-income partner who leaves the work force. While there are exceptions and other motives that factor into these decisions, we know who the lower-earning spouse usually is.
How is it, then, that men are willing to negotiate, but women know intuitively what social-science research has borne out: that to do so is to risk being considered aggressive and greedy. Is it something about the way boys play, the way they trade hockey or Pokemon cards and then later build teams within salary cap allowances on NHL 2015? Or is it more about how girls are expected to “play nice,” to think and care about others and keep the peace?
Though research into women and the negotiation backlash is fairly new, experts know that socialized norms of expected behaviour are formed early on in a child’s development.
“Girls are taught and reinforced to have good communication skills and to be co-operative. They also have a maturational advantage for understanding social expectations,” says Erin Rajca, of the Child Development Institute in Toronto. “These are all positive elements of a good negotiator.”
But, she says, the problem begins when girls step outside their traditional gender role and try to negotiate.
“Girls who attempt to take on a leadership role can sometimes come into conflict with people’s expectations about what it means to be female,” says Rajca. “When parents and other influential adults are critical of girls for promoting themselves outside the gender box, it really limits a girl’s potential.”
For instance, when a girl tries to be assertive, she can be interpreted as bossy. “A boy, for example, engaging in a parallel behaviour – what would the perspective be? It [could] be, ‘Okay, good. He’s taking on a leadership role,’ versus, ‘She needs to be more patient, or she’s coming off too strong.’ I don’t think that’s a conscious process going on in people’s brain, but it’s a reaction,” says Rajca.
Complicating matters, at around ages 12 to 14, girls can start to see a loss of confidence, which can lead to an inability to identify and speak up for their wants and needs, Rajca says.
Parents, guardians and other adults can help prepare girls for the negotiation table by dispelling preconceived notions that girls need to act and behave a certain way.
“There’s a number of things [parents and adults could do],” Rajca says. Key, she notes, is talking about experiences and reflecting on the role the girl played.
If there’s an opportunity for a girl to negotiate, parents can coach her and think about how she might act in those situations.
“They may engage her in a role play, for example, and discuss with her, ‘Well, how would you deal with that? And what are the pros and cons of dealing with the situation in that way? And why don’t we try it like this?’ ”
Positive female role models can also help girls develop their confidence so they feel more compelled to ask for what they want.
“[They] can engage them in conversations where they are bringing attention to the stereotype. They’re teaching them to recognize it, label it and break it down,” Rajca says.
As any parent of a teenage girl knows, the ability to negotiate is not unique to boys. Young women can be exceptionally skillful negotiators, finagling concessions from people in positions of authority with a determination and mastery that can be equal parts irritating and awe-inspiring. Whether it’s negotiating walking the dog in exchange for staying out later with friends, or lobbying for an increase in allowance, girls are definitely capable.
But something holds them back when women enter the work force.
“It’s not that we can’t negotiate, it’s that we don’t negotiate,” says Margaret A. Neale, the Adams Distinguished Professor of Management at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and co-author of the book Getting (More of) What You Want: How the Secrets of Economics and Psychology Can Help You Negotiate Anything, in Business and in Life.
In the corporate environment, at the salary table, women know their negotiation skills could actually hurt them. And that’s not just women’s intuition.
“That turns out to have a basis in reality because we can give a script to a woman and a script to a man about negotiating, and the woman and man could say exactly the same thing, and the woman is more likely to be perceived – especially by a male evaluator – as greedy, demanding and simply not nice,” Neale says.
Another sad reality: Women tend to undervalue their contributions, expertise and self-worth, which further contributes to unwillingness to engage in negotiation.
Women, Neale says, need to raise their expectations.
“If you think that you’re not worth that much or the likely outcome of this negotiation is not very high, then it’s really not going to be worth your effort to engage in the planning and preparation, and the anxiety that comes around from negotiating. It has to be worthwhile,” Neale says.
While parents and role models can do their part (by ensuring allowances and expectations for brothers and sisters are fair, that stereotypes about housework and child care aren’t reinforced at home, and by teaching girls how to express their value), also critical is corporate leadership focused on eliminating gender barriers, experts say.
“You’ve got to have senior leaders who talk about this and think about this,” says Alex Johnston, executive director of Catalyst Canada in Toronto, a research and consulting firm aimed at improving opportunities for women. “There’s no reason, there’s no excuse, with the evidence that we have – these gaps and these barriers are real. Business leaders [have] to look at them very seriously and say, ‘What do I need to do as the senior person or the leader of this organization to make sure these barriers don’t exist, and that we’re doing everything that we can to equip our men and women to succeed, and [that we’re] removing barriers in their path to fully contribute?’”
Ellen Pao, the former interim CEO of Reddit, made a bold attempt to even the compensation field. -
After she lost her gender-discrimination lawsuit against a past employer, the U.S. venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, Pao made the executive decision to ban salary negotiations at Reddit. Her reasoning: Men tend to negotiate harder than women do, and sometimes, when they do negotiate, women are penalized for their efforts.
“As part of our recruiting process, we don’t negotiate with candidates,” Pao told The Wall Street Journal. “We come up with an offer that we think is fair. If you want more equity, we’ll let you swap a little bit of your cash salary for equity, but we aren’t going to reward people who are better negotiators with more compensation.”
Although some lauded Pao’s approach, Neale says the no-negotiation policy could backfire.
“What happens to Reddit as they try to negotiate with their customers and clients over the long-term?” Neale asks. “If they systematically attract people who are very aversive to negotiating, the capacity of Reddit to negotiate effectively with its customers and clients will likely be diminished.”
Instead, the Stanford professor suggests companies should actually offer women a higher salary than men to account for the fact women don’t negotiate. “We have a job, and I pay $100,000 for the job for successful candidates if they’re men. I pay $120,000 if they’re women. Women aren’t going to negotiate so let’s just pay them 20-per-cent more, and let the guys negotiate up to the $120,000,” she says.
“Everybody, but most importantly women, need to move away from [the idea of] negotiation as an adversarial kind of battle,” says Neale. “Rather than kind of putting on the battle armour and getting ready to try [to] get stuff from people that they don’t want to give us, and trying to keep you from getting stuff that they don’t want you to have, what we need to do is really think of negotiation as collaborative problem-solving.”
When it comes to the actual act of negotiating, Neale suggests women look at it as if they are helping a colleague.
“I’m going to try to frame my negotiations in terms of solutions to problems that my counterparts have,” she says. “We know from empirical research that when women pair their requests with a communal concern for the other, they don’t get this backlash.”
Does that amount to concession, to submission to the woman-as-caregiver stereotype? Sure it does. But in Canada, where men still make up the majority of senior managers and board positions and are, for the most part, the ones sitting across from you at the negotiating table, it pays to be aware of the realities women face. Why, out of principle, would you leave money on the table?
When it comes to speaking up for what you want, Neale says, “If you don’t ask, then who will?”
The next time your daughter comes asking for an increase in her allowance, and is clear about why she deserves it, then maybe, funds allowing, you should grant her wish.
BY THE NUMBERS
- Of 34 OECD countries, the gender wage gap in Canada is seventh highest, at 18.97 per cent. (New Zealand is best at 5.62 per cent, Korea is worst at 36.6 per cent.) – OECD
- Women working full-time in Canada (including those with university degrees) bring home 20 per cent less than men in their field. – National Household Survey 2011, Statistics Canada.
- That gap is wider for aboriginal women, racialized and immigrant women. – National Household Survey 2011, Statistics Canada.
- Of female students graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh with master’s degrees, only 7 per cent tried to negotiate a higher offer. Of the male students, 57 per cent asked for more. On average, those male students landed starting salaries 7.6-per-cent higher (almost $4,000 U.S.) than their female peers. – Survey by Carnegie Mellon professor Linda Babcock
- For every dollar earned by a university-educated male worker in Canada, a university-educated female in the public sector makes 82 cents, and a university-educated woman in the private sector makes 73 cents. – Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
- Though women make up half the work force, as of 2013 only 5.3 per cent of Canadian CEOs were women. – Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
- As of 2014, women held 15 per cent of seats of S&P/TSX composite index companies. – Globe and Mail Board Games study, 2014
- As of 2011, more working-age Canadian women (64.8 per cent) have postsecondary education than men (63.4 per cent). – National Household Survey, Statistics CanadaReport Typo/Error
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