Women’s reluctance to negotiate for higher salaries has long been considered a significant contributor to the gender pay gap. However, new research has revealed a surprising reversal in the gender divide in negotiating, challenging the notion that women are less inclined to ask for what they deserve. The researchers found that women were more likely than men to ask for more compensation but still earn less.
Two decades ago, Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever outlined several studies demonstrating women’s reluctance to negotiate in their popular book Women Don’t Ask. For example, survey results from master’s degree students entering new jobs indicated that female students were likely to take the first pay offer. In contrast, male students were eight times more likely than their female counterparts to attempt negotiating a higher starting salary.
According to Babcock and Laschever’s calculations, the slight differences men would gain through negotiating could amplify throughout their careers and could ultimately account for a large portion of the gender pay gap.
The new research, published in the Academy of Management Discoveries, indicates that the situation has changed dramatically in the last two decades. According to the studies, women are now more likely than men to ask for higher compensation. But it’s not all good news for women. While women are more likely to ask for higher salaries, men still receive greater compensation.
In one study, the authors analyzed data from an exit survey conducted by a career management office of graduating MBA students. The survey questioned 990 MBA graduates about whether they negotiated the offer for their first job out of the MBA program. Women (54%) were more likely to say yes than men (44%). It’s unclear whether this increase in female negotiation would apply to other professions.
Although women negotiated more than their male counterparts, the researchers found that women were still paid significantly less than men. “Therefore, the pay gap in this population disfavoring women cannot logically be due to women not asking,” the researchers conclude.
The researchers attribute the growth in women’s negotiation over the last two decades to a heightened awareness of the importance of bargaining. Books like former Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and Babcock and Laschever’s Ask For It encouraged women to be more assertive and ask for the compensation they deserved. Business schools also have focused more on negotiation skills in the last two decades.
Despite this evidence, the perception that women are hesitant to negotiate remains prevalent—and this belief could be problematic for women. When the researchers surveyed the public about their beliefs on gender and negotiation, people still believed that women were less likely than men to negotiate for better compensation or promotions.
According to the researchers, this belief makes it harder to close the pay gap. The notion that women shy away from negotiations not only oversimplifies the pay gap but also assigns undue blame on women. The impression that women could earn the same as men simply by negotiating more frequently lulls us into complacency with the status quo. As a result, we become less likely to seek out the true underlying causes of the pay gap.
The researchers suggest that we must get the word out that “Women don’t ask” no longer applies. Instead, they assert that the message needs to be replaced by something that captures the subtleties female negotiators face. They recommend, “Women are punished for asking.”
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