Why Women Don't Ask For More Money

Apr 8, 2014
Originally published on May 20, 2016 3:47 pm

When Emily Amanatullah was a graduate student studying management, she couldn't help noticing that a lot of the classic advice in the field was aimed more at men than women. Negotiation tactics in particular seemed tougher for women to master.

"You realize they're pretty at odds with how women comport themselves and how they're expected to comport themselves," she says.

She started to talk to other women and to examine her own behavior. All the women she spoke to said they hated advocating for themselves at work. But they had no trouble speaking up for colleagues.

So Amanatullah, now an assistant professor of management at the University of Texas, devised an experiment. In a simulation, she had men and women negotiate a starting salary for themselves. Then she had them negotiate on behalf of someone else.

When the women negotiated for themselves, they asked for an average of $7,000 less than the men. But when they negotiated on behalf of a friend, they asked for just as much money as the men.

Amanatullah says when women advocate for themselves, they have to navigate more than a higher salary: They're managing their reputation, too. Women worry that pushing for more money will damage their image. Research shows they're right to be concerned: Both male and female managers are less likely to want to work with women who negotiate during a job interview.

One person I spoke with for this story lowballed herself so much in a negotiation that the recruiter came back and asked if she was sure she wanted to request so little. She hates negotiating to this day.

But Maggie Neale of Stanford Business School says there are ways around this discomfort. For one thing, she says, women can use their ability to fight for others for their own ends. When you're negotiating a raise, she says, think of the other people your salary is supporting so the negotiation doesn't seem like it's all about you.

She also recommends that women stop thinking about negotiation as "adversarial, putting on the armor, getting ready to do battle." Instead, she says, think of it as solving a problem.

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Now in the workplace, women often undervalue themselves. That's the view of Sally Krawcheck, who was on the program yesterday. She was once one of the most powerful women on Wall Street. Krawcheck believes women don't ask for enough money when they negotiate with their bosses - that's if they even ask at all.

We're digging deeper into this issue this morning, looking at ways for women to get the edge in negotiations.

Ashley Milne-Tyte from our Planet Money team has more.

ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE, BYLINE: Emily Amanatullah is a management professor at the University of Texas. And she became fascinated with the dynamics between men and women pretty early. She grew up with three brothers. She was the only girl in their gang of neighborhood kids. When she went to graduate school, she found a lot of the classic management advice was aimed more at her brothers than herself.

EMILY AMANATULLAH: Once you start to learn, especially competitive negotiation tactics, you realize they're pretty at odds with how women generally comport themselves and how they're expected to comport themselves.

MILNE-TYTE: Amanatullah started to look closely at women's strengths and weaknesses, and they certainly seemed familiar.

AMANATULLAH: To very much a high degree, I am the woman that I study. I don't like to self-promote, I feel uncomfortable in situations where I have to negotiate on my own behalf.

MILNE-TYTE: Amanatullah wanted to find the source of that squeamishness. She began talking to other women about their experiences at work. Again and again, she heard women say how difficult it was to advocate for themselves at the office. But something else kept coming up. They had no trouble speaking up for colleagues. So Amanatullah decided to set up a research experiment. First, men and women had to negotiate a starting salary for themselves. The men did better than the women. Then each of the subjects were asked to negotiate a salary for a friend.

AMANATULLAH: And what we saw was that on average women who were negotiating for themselves threw out a counteroffer that was $7,000 less than women who were negotiating for someone else.

MILNE-TYTE: Again, when the women were told to negotiate for a friend, they bargained just as hard as the guys.

AMANATULLAH: Women are not bad negotiators. Rather, they're really quite savvy at negotiation.

MILNE-TYTE: They just don't always use those skills for themselves. So, what's really going on here? There's quite a literature on this. Several studies show when women are direct and assertive during salary negotiations, it puts managers of both genders off. They see the women as pushy and they don't want to work with them. And women know they're expected to be likeable. It's a common story. I talked to Miriam Krause. She's an academic. She remembers her first salary negotiation out of graduate school. She was desperate to come across well.

MIRIAM CRASS: There's the awareness of I'm going to be working with these people and you don't want to jeopardize their good opinion of you.

MILNE-TYTE: So, she picked a number she hoped wouldn't offend anyone - $22,000.

MIRIAM KRAUSE: And I got a call from the contract office, and the very nice woman there said something along the lines of are you sure this is the number that you want? Are you sure you don't want to ask for more than this?

MILNE-TYTE: She did end up asking for more but to this day she wonders how it can be less painful. So, how can women negotiate as successfully for themselves as they do for others? One piece of management advice is basically to remind women they're rarely negotiating just for themselves. They should bear in mind they're often supporting parents or a spouse or their kids. Maggie Neale teaches negotiation at Stanford Business School. When she navigates a new employment package, she thinks of her retired husband, her three dogs, five horses and 14 chickens.

MAGGIE NEALE: That's a lot of mouths to feed and I'm responsible for them.

MILNE-TYTE: Essentially, she's asking for more money not just for herself but for her spouse and all those animals. Another piece of advice that Neale has it to reframe the whole idea of negotiation.

NEALE: We really need to think about negotiation in a completely different way. Walk away from this notion of this adversarial, putting on the armor, getting ready to do battle perspective, and rather think about negotiation as problem solving.

MILNE-TYTE: Always think what do you want, what does the company want and how can you help each other? Here's what it sounds like.


JAKE SINGER: How are you?

SHARMA: Good. How are you?

SINGER: Good. First of all, congratulations on the offer.

MILNE-TYTE: This is at NYU's Stern School of Business. Students Jake Singer and Hansini Sharma are learning negotiation skills through role play. In this case, the female recruit is offered a salary of $82,000. Listen to how delicately she counters that.

SHARMA: So, I'd like to kind of talk about salary.


SHARMA: So, I was looking more at, like, 92, 94, in that range. Just knowing what industry standards are. How do you feel about that?

SINGER: So, that's unfortunately a little bit more than we're able to offer you.

MILNE-TYTE: But ultimately Sharma comes away with a slightly higher salary and a lot of the benefits she was angling for. She kept pushing carefully, using language like would that be possible or how does that sound?

SHARMA: If you have to rock the boat to get what you think you deserve then you should do it. But I think there's a right way to do it. You don't have to be rude.

MILNE-TYTE: And an interesting thing happens when you learn these skills. Sharma told me she actually likes to negotiate now. Ashley Milne-Tyte, NPR News.


GREENE: All right. Tomorrow, we'll hear about research suggesting that women have good reason to take a guarded approach the negotiating table.


GREENE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.