“Women don’t negotiate because they’re not idiots.”
That’s the provocative title and main thrust of a recent Huffington Post piece in which Joan Williams argues that negotiating can leave women “worse off than if they’d kept their mouths shut.” Williams appropriately notes the 2006 Babcock study on the backlash directed at women who negotiate. The study demonstrates that there is sexism in the workplace. But does that surprise us? Does that mean that as women we should just sit back and accept that we have to ensure in every situation that we are “well-liked” rather than ask for what we deserve — to be paid fairly?
Williams questioned how $tart $mart salary negotiation workshops (co-run by AAUW and the WAGE Project and featured in a recent New York Times article) address any backlash that women may face in negotiation. What AAUW and $tart $mart make clear is that responsibility for the wage gap doesn’t lie solely with women as individuals. The workshops do demonstrate some of the key stereotypes that women face in the workplace. And AAUW’s own research on women’s earnings just one year out of college points to the variety of other factors related to the current gap.
I couldn’t agree more with Williams’ ask for a “new system for setting starting salaries.” She suggests that employers provide new hires with information about salary ranges and potential stereotypes about women in the workplace. This idea connects to recent research that shows that women are much more likely to negotiate if the position noted explicitly that the salary was “negotiable.” Plainly put, women seek permission for what men automatically assume they are entitled to.
There are many things we — policymakers, business owners, hiring managers, and individuals — can do to fight the wage gap. But, of all the things we can do, telling women to give in to the realities of sexism and give up negotiating shouldn’t be one of them.