Salary Negotiation, Powerful Women and the Wage Gap

By Katherine Birdsall

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

I worked at the same part-time job from my sophomore year of high school to my sophomore year of college at a retail store in my hometown. I faithfully worked every Christmas Eve for the holiday rush over my winter breaks, and  scrubbed what seemed like thousands of puddles on the floor from customers’ dirty winter boots. Not once in those four years was I ever given a raise over the state minimum wage. I often thought I deserved higher pay as I took on more and more responsibilities, but continued to earn $7.25 (although one time I mistook an increase in the minimum wage to be a raise…) Granted, my part-time job was not my only means of financial support, unlike many of the women who are affected by the wage gap; not asking for a raise did not affect my or my family’s survival. However, by not asking for a raise, I behaved  like most women; women ask for raises or promotions 85% less than their male colleagues.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, an important piece of legislation in closing the wage gap, updates the Equal Pay Act. The Act will protect employees from employer retaliation for sharing salary information and increases training, research, and education in closing the wage gap. Under the Paycheck Fairness Act, employers are required to show that wage discrepancies are based on the requirements of the position and business, not on gender. The Paycheck Fairness Act makes addressing wage discrimination easier.

Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon University has published many resources on women and negotiation. She has found that men are four times more likely to negotiate a first salary than women. Babcock cites socialization norms as a major factor in these behaviors; while men are active, women wait to be asked, just as I did. The Paycheck Fairness Act includes a section to provide resources for women to attend negotiation trainings. The wage transparency protected by the Paycheck Fairness Act will also help women in future negotiations; by knowing where they stand in relation to colleagues salaries, women will be able to more effectively advocate their own worth.

However, women often face backlash when they negotiate. Another study that Babcock conducted consisted of a woman and a man reading the same script, in which they asked for raises. Participants in the study, both men and women, felt that the man was appropriate and should have received the raise. They felt that the woman was “too aggressive” and “demanding.” Frustrated by this, Babcock and Harvard researcher Hannah Riley Bowles formulated ways for women to negotiate successfully. According to their guidelines, women should reaffirm feminine stereotypes in negotiation, and appear “friendly, warm, and concerned for others above yourself.” Babcock was equally as frustrated with these techniques as she was with the results of her study.

The phenomenon of assertive women or women in power being labeled as aggressive, unpalatable, or disagreeable is not new. Hillary Clinton was labeled as “the bitch” of the 2008 presidential campaign, and US Soccer goalie Hope Solo was kicked off of the 2007 World Cup Team for speaking honestly about her team.  These exact same behaviors in men are either praised or overlooked. Although Babcock’s suggestions for successful negotiation are realistic, they continue to reinforce the stigmatization of women who know their own worth – and who voice that knowledge. In an article for Forbes, Victoria Pynchon reminds readers that well behaved women rarely make history; the right to vote surely would not have been won if suffragettes had acted within feminine stereotypes.

So, women of the workplace, ask – and with a vengeance!

#HERvotes, a multi-organization campaign launched in August 2011, advocates women using our voices and votes to stop the attacks on the women’s movement’s major advances, many of which are at risk in the next election.

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