CREATING A NEGOTIATION CULTURE
I'll just have the conversation. If you have a respectful conversation with somebody and you try and think of it from their point of view - then you can't go wrong.
What is negotiation and why does it matter?
Negotiation is commonplace in the workforce. Employees are now much more likely than in previous generations to negotiate personalised employment conditions . Although most people think of negotiation as something that only occurs as a new employee to determine salary, conditions of work, and other relevant factors, negotiation occurs much more broadly after employment commences. Negotiations can occur during conversations around promotions, training and development opportunities, flexible workplace arrangements, computer technology and workspace needs, among other topics. These discussions range from large one-off resource requests to smaller everyday needs.
Whether they realise it or not, almost everyone negotiates at work. However, not everyone is successful at negotiation. This is particularly true for women.
Why is successful negotiation important?
Addressing gender inequities is beneficial for women, but also provides benefits to organisations and society as a whole. However, it is important to recognize that negotiation is gendered; outcomes for women are usually different (worse) than for men.
Why is negotiation a gender issue?
In order to be successful, employees must build economic resources, such as a good salary package and a strong client base. At the same time, they must build social resources, such as good working relationships and solid networks. Women who seek economic resources through negotiation are seen as being hostile, selfish, devious and quarrelsome , which negatively impacts their social resources . This backlash to women engaging in negotiation can even result in women being disliked and colleagues not wanting to work with them, even though they are still considered competent . Negotiating might lead to better opportunities and economic outcomes for women, but these economic resources come at a social cost.
Poor negotiation outcomes may seem insignificant when considering a single negotiation episode. However, the ongoing accumulation of these poor outcomes can result in a large resource gap over a career. An issue is created from the onset of workers’ careers, with a graduate gender pay gap in Australia across most industries . This gap builds over time into the gender pay gap mentioned previously of 15% .
We often hear that women do not negotiate as effectively as men. And actually this might be true! But it’s not that women are ineffective negotiators, it’s more about women having difficulties successfully negotiating, in part because they anticipate a backlash.
Gender stereotypes are a key factor in understanding negotiation failures. These stereotypes describe how men and women are perceived and how they should (and should not) behave. Research has found that women are generally perceived as communal (caring and interdependent) and men as agentic (ambitious, assertive, decisive and self-reliant) . Negotiation involves agentic behaviours, which means women who negotiate must operate outside prescribed behavioural norms. Women who breach these behavioural norms experience backlash in the form of economic and social penalties .
When do women negotiate?
The decision about whether to enter into negotiation can be topic driven. Women are more likely to enter into negotiations for items that are considered feminine, such as flexibility around child care, compared to contexts considered masculine, such as discussions around compensation . Women may feel more comfortable than men when talking about child care, as this is congruent with their gender role. This is in contrast to men who feel more comfortable than women when talking about compensation, which is congruent with the male gender role. Reducing levels of ambiguity around negotiation can remove the gendered nature of negotiation . This can be achieved through the introduction of “zones of negotiability” discussed shortly.
Women also experience more negotiation success when they advocate for others . When women negotiate for themselves, they are subject to backlash . However, when women advocate for others they are acting within expected gender norms because they are seen as helping others . When advocating for others, women negotiate harder and give in less than when they’re negotiating for themselves . Negotiators view women in this role favourably and, in fact, may penalise women who don’t advocate for those that they’re expected to advocate for .
There are consistent research findings in relation to gender and negotiation. These are presented below:
When women negotiate, they experience backlash in the form of social and economic reprisals. For example, women who appear confident are seen as competent, but unlikable. These women are seen as hostile, even devious . A woman who negotiates may win economic reward, but experiences a social backlash because others don’t want to work with her.
Women are less likely to negotiate. They are aware of backlash and try to avoid it. The more women anticipate backlash, the less inclined they are to initiate negotiations .
When people negotiate with women, they offer less and are more likely to resist influence attempts .
Ongoing negotiation failures accumulate into a salary gap, a career advancement gap and a superannuation gap .
In sum, negotiating might lead to better economic outcomes in the short term, but these economic resources come at a social cost. Women are “damned if they do and doomed if they don’t” .
What can organisations do to improve negotiation outcomes for women?
There is an active debate in the literature. One camp argues that women should “lean in” to succeed by speaking up and asking for what they want . This camp is suggesting that the problem can be addressed by explicitly changing women’s behaviour, which is the “fix the women” argument. The other camp criticises this approach and argues that organisations need to make significant changes to give women more room to negotiate. Here, we present strategies for organisations to reduce or prevent backlash experienced by women who negotiate. We believe there is room for both approaches – if organisations create the right environment for women to be able to successfully negotiate, then women will be able to lean in.
There are strategies that organisations can adopt to create a negotiation culture, so that women can negotiate without backlash. Individual, evidence-based  strategies for women are presented in the Negotiating a deal section.