I recently read “Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide”, a book written by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever that explored the subject of women and negotiation. I was frankly shocked by the findings in this book.

The simple premise of the book is that women are poor negotiators and they avoid negotiation like the plague. They hate it. Why? The authors suggest that it is mostly role based programming; girls are trained early in life to be conflict avoiders and peace keepers. Negotiation is for boys.

The book offers the following insight:

• 2.5 times more women than men said they feel “a great apprehension” about negotiating.
• Men initiate negotiations about four times more often than women.
• When asked to describe negotiation, men said it is like “winning a ballgame” while women said it is like “going to the dentist.”
• Women will pay as much as $1,353 to avoid negotiating the price of a car, which may explain why 63 percent of Saturn car buyers are women.
• 20 percent of women say they never negotiate at all, even though they recognize negotiation as necessary.
• Men are four times more likely than women to negotiate a first salary.

The negative consequences to this lack of negotiation are very measurable:

• By not negotiating a first salary, a woman stands to lose more than $500,000 by age 60
• Only 10.9 percent of the board seats at Fortune 1000 companies are held by women.
• Women own about 40 percent of all businesses in the U.S., but receive only 2.3 percent of the available equity capital needed for growth.

Optimistically, when women are given the right training and “programming”, they negotiate just as well as the men. Or, better. The authors believe that the training starts in the home and must be reinforced in the schools. They argue that a negotiating strength for women is their capacity for empathy; women can better understand how the other party feels in a negotiation (compared to men who can be obsessed with winning at all costs). This empathy enables women to structure win/win agreements more naturally then men. The role models are there. Look at Condoleeza Rice, or remember Margaret Thatcher.

As the father of two daughters, I take this message to heart. It is clear to me that I need to encourage them to take risks and negotiate. I need to send a signal that it is okay to seek conflict to resolve issues and that they both deserve to get what they want. Finally, I need to teach them that negotiation is fun.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2006 All rights reserved.
Please visit my website at www.firstbestordifferent.com

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