Women, Negotiation, and Career Advancement
  • Behaviour

Women, Negotiation, and Career Advancement

Overcoming the Barriers that Prevent Women Excelling in Negotiation


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Traditionally men have been seen to be better negotiators than women, and this is often cited as a reason why women lag behind in terms pay and career advancement.

Organizations need to see beyond this to maximise the talent available to them, and to give able women a fair chance for advancement despite the negotiation gender bias. Furthermore, organizations can benefit greatly from adopting a female approach to negotiations.

New research from Professor Jessica Kennedy of the Owen Graduate School of Management, Vanderbilt University and Professor Laura J. Kray of Haas School of Business UC Berkeley, suggests that while women do underperform relative to men in negotiation, this is only under limited circumstances, and that the male/female negotiating imbalance has little to do with women’s skill or ability and more to do with the circumstances.

Having reviewed key findings from the past twenty years of research on gender differences in negotiation, Kennedy and Kray advocate a new paradigm of negotiation, one that values cooperativeness, collective intelligence and ethical behaviour; one in which the value of female strengths would be more readily apparent. In particular, they call for greater attention to long-term relationships, subjective value, and relational capital, all of which may have important economic implications in real world negotiations.

The researchers advise that it is not in women’s interest to continue to play the ‘catch up’ game at the bargaining table, trying to become more like men. Training women to become better negotiators although valuable will not alone, as it is currently conceptualized, reduce the gender gap in pay and advancement. In fact training women to be more like men hides the ways in which women have unique strengths.

The key to accelerating female advancement in the workplace, Kenney and Kray submit, is first to ensure women are treated similarly to men when they do negotiate, and secondly to encourage them to be optimistic about their negotiation skills and potential outcomes. 

Organizations need to cultivate a strong, positive social identity of women as astute negotiators. When women negotiators do underperform relative to men, it is often due to negative stereotypes that undermine their expectations. Under the current negotiation paradigm, women’s strengths are often portrayed as weaknesses, but unnecessarily so. When considered in the light of a new, more realistic paradigm, women’s strengths could shine, enabling them to have true confidence – that kind that comes from authenticity – and the positive negotiation outcomes that comes from it.

It is important to understand when and why gender differences in negotiation performance emerge and to eliminate the cognitive, motivational, and paradigmatic barriers faced by women in order to level the negotiation playing field. With this in mind, Kennedy and Kray call for greater attention to what organizations and negotiating counterparts can do to create a context for women to excel at rates comparable to men. “We believe such solutions are fairer than are solutions that require women to bear the burden of responsibility for their disadvantaged situation.” they say.

The researchers propose a series of correctives that may help empower women to overcome the negotiation gender gap, under these headings and sub-heading:

Correctives for Cognitive Barriers (to reduce the use of stereotypes about women negotiators): Adopt growth mindsets – Raise awareness of how discretion enables implicit bias – Focus on superordinate identities.

Correctives for Motivational Barriers: Instil norms to minimize identity threat – Advocate for other women – Display non-threatening interpersonal styles.

Correctives for Paradigmatic Barriers: Diversify research samples – Broaden the definition of what constitutes negotiation – Examine moderators of perceiver-driven gender bias.

Access the full research paper: A Pawn in Someone Else’s Game?: The Cognitive, Motivational, and Paradigmatic Barriers to Women’s Excelling in Negotiation, Jessica A. Kennedy, Owen Graduate School of Management, Vanderbilt University, and Laura J. Kray Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley. Research in Organizational Behavior, Volume 35, 2015, Pages 3–28.

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