Studies show that across the board, women are not negotiating for better salaries and when they do they often negotiate for less than their male counterparts. Research has highlighted how costly the absence of negotiation can be as a failure to negotiate at work can lead to lower salaries and the dismissal of important career opportunities. And a failure to empower women in negotiations can also hurt organisations, by narrowing their talent pipeline.
Dr Sunny Lee’s research identifies several sources for women’s reticence in negotiations, including the negative reactions women who are assertive and competitive face. Her collaborative research extends this understanding by discussing how women’s peer cultures and related values may constrain their own behaviours.
The three key factors identified were; compared to men women are less comfortable in functioning in large groups, men are exposed to more intergroup competition (e.g. team sports) in their social spheres and tend to feel more comfortable competing for status than women who adopt a collective peer culture promotion equality and therefore find this competition inherently undesirable and women’s friendships often demand a higher level of exclusivity and tolerance for conflicts is lower, which extends into work relationships and negotiating can pose the risk of relational damage.
Sunny suggests various ways in which women can better prepare themselves for negotiating and encourage them to actively negotiate in the workplace, for example practising through workshops, debate societies or team sports, all of which offer a great setting where individuals naturally interact with multiple others, negotiate for a variety of decisions, and form and dissolve different allies. Like many other things, practice will make negotiation more comfortable.
But Sunny stresses that changing this narrative is a collective responsibility. Organisations should provide support, given that employees’ thoughts and behaviours are constantly shaped and reshaped in the workplaces, where they spend much of their waking life. They must set up cultures and procedures where employees can openly propose different ideas to their company, as well as to each other.