It should come as no surprise that men and women are still treated unequally in the workplace, with women being both paid less and underrepresented in top jobs in corporate America. But there is another, subtler source of inequality that can affect entrepreneurs, too. Women often don’t get what they want and deserve because they don’t ask for it.
A recent report in Harvard Business Review indicated that men are more likely than women to negotiate for what they want. When extrapolated to the entrepreneurial world, these findings could have a significant impact on the earning capacity of women-owned businesses if they under-price their products or services.
If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
The studies reported in the Harvard Business Review (Babcock, et al., October 2003) found that women were less likely than men to negotiate for themselves for several reasons:
1. Women are often are socialized from an early age not to promote their own interests and to focus instead on the needs of others. They receive this message from parents, teachers, other children, the media, and society in general. Often, this message is so powerful that women either may not realize that they have internalized this behavior, or they do not understand how it affects their willingness to negotiate. They have not, to the same extent as men, been encouraged to ask for more.
2. In many situations, women are “penalized” when they do ask, which further discouraged them from doing so. Women who assertively pursued their own ambitions and promote their own interests may be labeled as bitchy or pushy. The studies showed that they frequently saw their work devalued and found themselves ostracized or excluded from access to important information. While this may not have been part of a conscious or concerted effort to “hold women back,” more typically, it reflected ingrained expectations about how women should act.
3. Having become disenchanted with the situation, women tended to quit their employment situations, rather than use a better employment offer as a negotiating tool. In short, the squeaky wheel gets oiled, and the ones doing the squeaking are not women.
Changing the culture.
There are two important factors that can help shift this behavioral pattern. First, by seeking out mentors, women can get solid advice on the benefits and the necessity of asking for what they need. Second, to fulfill their professional goals, women need greater access to the professional and social networks in which men learn the crucial lesson that life is negotiable. The studies reported in HBT reported that women responded immediately and powerfully to advising and rapidly began to see the world as a much more negotiable place when pleased in those environments. People respond in different ways to the same behavior in men and women. For example, behavior that, in a man, might be called assertive or principled, in a woman might be considered overbearing or strident. By finding ways to examine different responses, we can open our eyes to hidden barriers and create an atmosphere in which women and men can ask and receive—equally.