Negotiate at Your Own Risk: Women and the Gender Pay Gap

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on April 03, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

We've all heard about the gender pay gap, and we've all heard the advice: lean in. According to Sheryl Sandberg, in her book "Lean In," she encourages women to negotiate their salaries and titles, and attributes much of the lag in women's pay to women not negotiating for themselves.

But some studies are finding that leaning in can actually hurt women, including a study conducted by professors Hannah Riley Bowles and Linda Babcock. Women negotiating their salary can be seen as aggressive by employers, and as Professor Babcock explains, "The research could not be more clear in that we tolerate more aggressive or assertive behavior by men more than women," reports The New York Times.

Job Offer Rescinded

One recent example is the case of "W.," a woman who was offered a job as a professor at a college in upstate New York. In response to the offer, W. made some requests, but acknowledged that she was happy for the offer and said that she knew all of her requests may not be met.

Rather than negotiate, the school rescinded her offer, reports Slate. Ouch -- so much for leaning in, right?

Navigating Negotiations

So what's a girl to do? Well, one Slate writer nailed it when she said maybe we should expect employers not to be sexist. But that's a bit circular, because if employers weren't sexist, we wouldn't be talking about this, no?

Professor Babcock and offer advice on how women should approach negotiations. While Professor Babcock told the Times that "It's totally unfair because we don't require the same thing of men," it's also true that "if women want to be successful in this domain, they need to pay attention to this."

Tips for Negotiating

There are other things you can do: for example, having a mentor -- someone in your corner -- really helps in these types of situations. However, the unfortunate reality is that it can seem like a no-win situation sometimes.

The best thing for you to do is really look at your circumstances. You know your supervisors best, and have an inside view of office politics. You don't have to follow all of the suggestions above, just the ones that make sense for you. Hopefully in time, women can just focus on their work, and employers will be gender-blind. Until then, lean in with caution.

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