Negotiation Tactics and Gender Differences: Breaking the Glass Ceiling

Last year, we celebrated Fortune Magazine’s reveal of the highest-ever proportion of female CEOs among the country’s most valuable businesses when measured by total revenue. Despite progress, the sad fact remains that the actual proportion is still too small – only 6.4% of Fortune 500 companies are led by women.

There’s a similar trend occurring across the world in a number of organizations – large and small, for-profit and non-profit. In general, women are less visible and, in some instances, absent the further you climb the corporate ladder.

The same is true when it comes to compensation – men typically make more for performing the same job as women. In fact, the pay disparity even exists in the lucrative film industry with producers for the popular Netflix show The Crown revealing that the star, Claire Foy, made less money per episode than her supporting actor, Matt Smith.

Truth be told, the lack of advancement and compensation gap can, at times, have little to do with workplace performance. Instead, much has to do with how men and women negotiate.

Gender Differences in Negotiation

Multiple studies have reviewed how men and women negotiate, and researchers have identified key differences between the two.

1. The “social costs” are different. Numerous studies have found that when men negotiate their entry into a new position, there is little backlash from the hiring manager. The opposite is sadly true for women, however, as there is often a significant social cost.

Carol Sankar, founder of The Confident Factor for Women, writes that women who negotiate are often perceived as greedy, desperate, or even difficult. Among men, however, negotiation skills are marketable, desired traits that make them appear confident and powerful.

2. The language is different. Because of the different social costs, men and women communicate differently during negotiations. When men negotiate, they tend to discuss facts and use powerful, direct language. Women, on the other hand, frequently ask more questions and give fewer directives as they anticipate that assertiveness will evoke incongruity evaluations, negative attributions, and subsequent backlash. An unfortunate side effect of this behavior results in lower outcomes as negotiators have an easier time turning down women’s requests.

3. The aggression level is different. In Western culture, dominant men are often conditioned to be aggressive, while women are pushed to be more empathetic. Too much empathy could cause a negotiator to fall into an “empathy trap,” says the co-author of A Women’s Guide to Successful Negotiating, Lee Miller.

Negotiating Better

To increase your chances of success while negotiating:

1. Emphasize you’re on the same team. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, has pointed out that when you’re negotiating with a manager, it’s one of the few times you’ll be at odds with that individual. Research has shown that emphasizing this fact during a negotiation makes it easier to state your case while making it clear you’re still part of the same team.

2. Aggression is necessary. Research has shown women often struggle to negotiate for themselves but frequently outperform men when negotiating for others. Fatimah Gilliam, the founder and CEO of The Azara Group, a leadership development and strategy consulting business, recommends women remember that when they negotiate, they’re not just doing it for themselves. They’re also negotiating for their families and other people who are or may one day be dependent on them.

3. Negotiate more often. Studies have found men place themselves in negotiation situations more frequently than women. For example, men are more likely to negotiate upon receiving their first job offer. A study of Carnegie Mellon University graduates found that 57% of men asked for more money upon receiving their first job offer. Meanwhile, only 7% of women asked for more money in the same situation. If practice makes perfect, negotiating more will help position both men and women to grow into skilled negotiators.

Women have come a long way in the workforce since they joined it en masse during World War II, but there’s still plenty of progress to be made. By combining strong negotiation techniques with diverse, progressive businesses, women will soon secure equal footing with women across all industries.