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Women aren’t worse at pay negotiations than men. Here’s proof

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Moya Crockett
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It’s long been said that women struggle with salary negotiation – but according to a new study, that’s simply not true.

The subject of salary negotiations is one that frequently crops up in conversations about women, money and work. Women, it has often been said, tend to struggle when negotiating pay rises or new job contracts. We use apologetic, nervous language that undermines our message, or we allow ourselves to be easily fobbed off when our boss tells us there simply isn’t the budget. And that’s if we even manage to pluck up the courage to ask for more money in the first place.

Like most clichés, there’s a grain of truth in this narrative. Many women do find it awkward to negotiate, and some research has shown that women are less likely to ask for raises because they’re worried about being perceived as aggressive or pushy. It’s also true that the gender pay gap remains a serious problem (men, on average, earn 17.9% more than women in the UK), and one way of tackling the issue could be to encourage more women to ask for higher pay. 

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“Some attribute the pay gap to perceived gender differences in wage contract negotiations,” observes Holona Ochs, associate professor of political science at Lehigh University, “or, to a belief that women undermine their own bargaining position by extending too much trust to others in negotiations.”

The gender pay gap remains an issue in the UK - but women’s negotiation skills aren’t the problem 

But we should be wary of reducing the complex subject of the gender pay gap to a discussion about how women simply need to improve their negotiating skills. If we do, we run the risk of putting the onus on individual women to fix a huge, structural, systemic issue. 

And besides, there’s plenty of evidence to show that women are neither inherently bad at negotiating, nor shy about doing it – which suggests that the problem really lies with the people we’re negotiating with.

Ochs is the co-author of a new study which shows that there is, in fact, no significant difference between men and women’s negotiating skills. In a series of experiments, male and female participants were randomly assigned the roles of boss and employee. They were then required to negotiate an agreement that would determine how much they were each paid for taking part in the experiment. 

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As it turns out, women and men reached very similar negotiation outcomes – indicating that women’s supposed inability to negotiate is not a significant factor in maintaining the gender pay gap. Not only that, but women were just as self-interested and untrusting as men during negotiations.

“Our findings suggests that the gender stereotypes that lead to the perception that men may negotiate better wage contracts than women are misleading,” says Ochs. 

Most women were perfectly capable of negotiating for themselves

Ochs’ co-author on the study was Andrew B Whitford, professor of public administration and policy at the University of Georgia. The researchers say that the outcome of negotiations are “more likely affected by the context, than by gender differences”. In an institution-free environment such as the experiments in this study, women negotiated perfectly well – suggesting that the issue lies with organisations and institutions, not the women themselves.

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This isn’t the first study to find a flaw in the idea that women are too ‘reticent’ to negotiate successfully. In 2016, research by the Cass Business School and the universities of Warwick and Wisconsin found that women were just as likely as men to ask for a pay rise – but 25% less likely to get one. Which is… depressing, to put it mildly.

Ultimately, all women are different. Some feel terrified at the thought of asking for a raise, while others have negotiating skills that would put Kofi Annan to shame. If you know that you deserve more money and you feel ready to make your case, shoot your shot.

Think you could do with some more prep before you book in that chat with your boss? Check out our ultimate guide to asking for a raise.

Images: Getty Images 

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Moya Crockett

Moya is Contributing Women’s Editor at stylist.co.uk and Deputy Editor of Stylist Loves, Stylist's daily email newsletter. As well as writing about inspiring women and feminism, she also covers subjects including careers, politics and psychology. Carrying a bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

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