January 28, 2004: Reading Room
ask, dont get
By Jeffrey Klineman
People often think of the glass ceiling when pondering barriers to womens success in the corporate world, but Sara Laschever 79 argues in her new book that, for many women, the window of negotiation is a much more daunting construction.
In the widely praised Women Dont Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, published by Princeton University Press last October, Laschever, a journalist from Somerville, Massachusetts, and coauthor Linda Babcock, an economist at Carnegie Mellon University, examine the societal and personal reasons that many women are averse to negotiating on their own behalf and fail to realize that certain situations are negotiable at all.
The results of this phenomenon are stark, according to the authors: Women who fail to negotiate for their initial salary can lose hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime. Women who imagine that the quality of their work will result in raises or promotions are passed over because they do not do what so many men have learned to do: Ask for what they deserve.
Forces of socialization tend to teach women from a very early age that they shouldnt feel they deserve too much, says Laschever, an English major at Princeton. That they shouldnt be pushy or bossy or demanding. They should be socialized, caretaking, and communal. As early as first grade, girls have lost the sense of what they deserve. Theyre confused and unable to accurately assess their market value.
At the same time, our society is too heavily weighted toward an aggressive winner take all negotiating style, rather than one in which parties seek a resolution that is good for both sides which is characteristic of many womens styles, according to the authors.
Women who do ask for what they want particularly in the business world risk facing the perception of being too hard-charging.
The authors, who interviewed some 100 women in a range of careers, show that certain situations such as determining salary and assignments and the price of a car are open to discussion, and offer advice on negotiating effectively without being stereotyped.
At the same time, Laschever makes her distaste for the ball-busting stereotype perfectly clear. She counsels women to use a somewhat softer social approach, even though she dislikes giving this advice. It absolutely is not fair that [women] should have to be so careful, she says. It isnt fair to have to walk that tightrope. But the world is not going to change in a day, and we think its a pragmatic approach.
Women might find results if they are friendly, use hand gestures, and fulfill the role society expects of them, says Laschever, while maintaining high goals, so they seem less aggressive and less threatening even while asking for the same things.
Adds Laschever, The book . . . tells women to look at the world as a more negotiable place, and its like a lightbulb going off in their heads. They go out and ask for things they thought they couldnt get. In most cases, they get it.
Jeffrey Klineman is a freelance writer in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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By Lucia S. Smith 04