January 28, 2004: Reading Room


Coauthor Sara Laschever ’79 tells women to negotiate salaries and assignments. (Charlee Brodsky)

Don’t ask, don’t get
Sara Laschever ’79 advises women to speak up for what they deserve


By Jeffrey Klineman

People often think of the glass ceiling when pondering barriers to women’s 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 Don’t 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 shouldn’t feel they deserve too much,” says Laschever, an English major at Princeton. “That they shouldn’t 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. They’re 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 women’s 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 isn’t fair to have to walk that tightrope. But the world is not going to change in a day, and we think it’s 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 it’s like a lightbulb going off in their heads. They go out and ask for things they thought they couldn’t get. In most cases, they get it.”

Jeffrey Klineman is a freelance writer in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Book Shorts

Light Disguise — DAVID SOFIELD ’57 (Copper Beech). In Sofield’s first book of poems, written over the last 30 years, he covers a range of topics, from the parallels between cleaning up one’s desk and one’s life, to feelings of hopelessness and elation, to turning 65 in Vienna. Sofield is an English professor at Amherst College. His work has been published in the New Yorker, Poetry, and the New Republic.

Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry — P. W. SINGER ’97 (Cornell). The author examines a recent development in modern warfare: private companies offering specialized military services for hire. Private military firms range from consulting firms that sell the strategic advice of retired generals to corporations that lease out trained commando teams. Singer looks at the risks that come from outsourcing national security. Singer is a fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution.

Coming Home: A Woman’s Story of Conversion to Judaism — LINDA M. SHIRES *81 (Westview). About 20 years after marrying a Jewish man, Shires, raised Protestant, converted to Judaism. This book chronicles her spiritual journey and explores the aspects of Judaism that she wrestles with, such as Orthodox and Conservative views on homosexuality and women. A professor of English and textual studies at Syracuse University, she also teaches in the Judaic studies program there.

By Lucia S. Smith ’04


Return to Books Main Menu

Current Issue    Online Archives    Printed Issue Archives
Advertising Info    Reader Services    Search    Contact PAW    Your Class Secretary