No man would ever say – at least in print or mixed company – that women are bad at negotiating for money and power because no guy wants to be drop-kicked to the proverbial curb for being a sexist pig. That, and it's pretty ridiculous to suggest that women can't negotiate for more money or more power – just ask Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey or Sheryl Sandberg. Still, women seem to say or suggest it quite often.
At least on the bookshelves, there are numerous titles out there that suggest women as a group could be more skilled at negotiating: "Women Don't Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation – and Positive Strategies for Change" by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever (2007), "A Woman's Guide to Successful Negotiating, Second Edition" by Lee E. Miller and Jessica Miller (2010) and "Find Your Inner Red Shoes: Step Into Your Own Style of Success" by Mariela Dabbah (2013). These are just a few books that have come out in recent years, arguing that women as a group shortchange themselves when it comes to negotiating.
"There has been a sizeable amount of research on this topic, and it does appear that women are more hesitant to negotiate than men, and that when they do negotiate they are less likely to make the first offer, and when they do make the first offer and counter offers, they're less extreme offers than the ones made by men," says Robin Pinkley, a professor of management and organizations at SMU Cox School of Business in Dallas and the author of "Get Paid What You're Worth." Pinkley, along with several other female academics, is also in the beginning stages of writing a book about negotiating for women.
But it isn't that women can't negotiate, it's that frequently, they don't. According to a recent Salary.com survey with 816 respondents, regardless of their position, 36 percent of men always negotiate their salary after a job offer – compared to 26 percent of women. Another telling finding: 67 percent of female respondents claimed negotiating salary made them nervous, compared to 50 percent of male respondents.
So with that in mind, no matter your gender, if you aren't much of a negotiator you may want to consider the following, and internalize it the next time you angle for a better salary, improved hours or a corner office.
Understand why you're reluctant. It's probably a confidence or fear issue, many experts say. Jane Barnes, a professor of organizational behavior at the Meredith College School of Business, an all-women's college in Raleigh, N.C., says she frequently talks about negotiating for salaries with her students.
Barnes says she used to see more hesitation among her students when it comes to negotiation than she does now. "Young women now seem much more likely to know that they should be negotiating and are less fearful of doing so," Barnes says. But for those who are still nervous, Barnes says it usually comes down to three reasons women are reluctant to negotiate for money. "They're afraid the job offer will be withdrawn, they don't want the employer to think poorly of them and they aren't sure they deserve it," Barnes says.
But she always reminds them that negotiating is expected. "Employers may actually think less of you if you just take whatever is offered," Barnes says, and she adds, "No one is going to withdraw a job offer if you try to negotiate and ask for something reasonable; they have spent a great deal of time, effort and money recruiting you and have decided you are their choice – use that to your advantage."
Do your homework. In other words, if you're going to ask for money, nearly every career expert in the field will tell you to research what is a fair amount to ask. Build up your case as to why you deserve more money, recommends Allison O'Kelly, founder and CEO of Mom Corps, a national career development firm based in Marietta, Ga., which focuses on finding work for mothers.
"If you know what others are making, whether at your company or in your field, it makes it much easier to negotiate than if you give a pie in the sky number," O'Kelly says. "And if you're not as strong-willed, you might back off the pie in the sky number. But if you can say that the average is, say, $75,000 a year for a particular job, and you say, 'I should make at least the average,' as you negotiate, it feels more factual and less personal."