Living in a coed interacial world, part 1: Negotiating

After passing on my chance to be on Montel last week, in an curious act of good timing, I’ve been reading a lot of articles on the web about studies that are looking at some very interesting phenomena when it comes to race, gender, ethnicity, and social class.* I’ve been posting them on my Linkroll, but I really wanted to highlight a few. So here’s the first in a series of posts:

Salary, Gender and the Social Cost of Haggling – washingtonpost.com

This article is from back in July, but it’s a very interesting read about some studies that have been looking at how much women negotiate (such as for salary or promotions) versus men and how women and men who neogitate are perceived by others. In the first set of studies, Professor of Economics Linda C. Babcock from Carnegie Melon (one of my alma maters) looked at, in both experimental and real world settings, how often women negotiated versus men– the not very surprising answer (at least to me) was than men negotiate significantly more than women do, even in experiments where subjects were explicitly told they could negotiate for higher compensation for their participation. In another set of studies, Babcock teamed up with Hannah Riley Bowles from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government to look at how men and women who negotiated were perceived by others. These studies found that the women were often considered “less nice,” less desirable to work with, and, in general, penalized if they chose to negotiate; men were less likely to be penalized, if at all. This was the case for both men and women observers (*sigh* the sisterhood has failed us again).

Traditional explanations for this disparity include long-held ideas that men are naturally more aggressive and that, whether its nature or nurture, women are less assertive. However, the second study sheds light on other motivators for the gender disparity. It shows that women’s tendency to NOT negotiate is a direct response to negative feedback in the social environment– there are real social risks for negotiating and women take them into serious consideration when choosing whether to negotiate. I, or any other woman, might say, “How important is this raise or promotion?” Women must assess the risk being taken simply by asking (never mind the probability of actually getting the raise or promotion). In fact, regardless of how successful a negotiation is, women know that they will ultimately pay a price for choosing to negotiate at all.

In the end, these studies give us a new way, a stepping stone to determine what’s behind and ultimately find a solution to close the salary gap, remove the double-standard for acceptable behavior, and, hopefully achieve greater equality overall.

Read the full article for more details on how the studies were conducted and their results.

* Note: social class is often ignored in many of these types of studies because we make the unfortunate assumption, consciously or not, that all members of certain racial/ethnic groups automatically belong to certain social classes. On one hand, given our nation’s history, social class still tends to correlate highly with racial/ethnic background, tempting to take the high correlation as reason enough to roll up social class with race/ethnicity. Not only is that racist and prejudiced at heart, but it is poor scientific work by unfairly trying to simplify the resulting complexities that result when all these variables– race, ethnicity, gender, and social class– come together.