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Women Don’t Ask, But They Should! [Political Physics]

I was recently offered a new job.  It is an amazing opportunity and I am honored to have been offered the position.  Plus I have been incredibly unhappy in my current position for some time.  So it took everything in my power not to just leap at the idea of taking the position when it was first offered at the generous salary that was being offered.  I mean no brainer right?  Amazing job + generous salary = “I’ll take it!”  But I did not take it, I countered.

Why?  Because of Linda Babcock.

Linda Babcock is a professor of Economics at the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University, where I went to graduate school.  Professor Babcock is the founder and faculty director of the Program for Research and Outreach on Gender Equity in Society (PROGRESS) at CMU.  Her research focus is in the area of negotiations and dispute resolution.  She is also the co-author of a book that literally changed my life.

Women Don’t Ask – The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation – and Positive Strategies for Change was written by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, a widely published writer and editor.  The book asks a central question, “Are women really less likely than men to ask for what they want?”  According to a book synopsis on Gary-Tomlinson.Com, Babcock and Laschever “discovered that by neglecting to negotiate the starting salary for her first job, a woman may sacrifice over half a million dollars in earnings by the end of her career. The damage continues as even highly accomplished professional women often fail to negotiate for salaries, perks, and key assignments that they deserve at work – not to mention asking for help at home.”

In fact, WomenDontAsk.Com notes that “In surveys, 2.5 times more women than men said they feel “a great deal of apprehension” about negotiating.  Men initiate negotiations about four times as often as women and 20 percent of adult women (22 million people) say they never negotiate at all, even though they often recognize negotiation as appropriate and even necessary.”

But who cares right?  I mean does it really matter?

Yes, it matters where it hurts most…our pocketbooks.

According to WomenDontAsk.Com, “By not negotiating a first salary, an individual stands to lose more than $500,000 by age 60—and men are more than four times as likely as women to negotiate a first salary.”  And in a study that Babcock performed at CMU, “eight times as many men as women graduating with master’s degrees from Carnegie Mellon negotiated their salaries. The men who negotiated were able to increase their starting salaries by an average of 7.4 percent, or about $4,000. In the same study, men’s starting salaries were about $4,000 higher than the women’s on average, suggesting that the gender gap between men and women might have been closed if more of the women had negotiated their starting salaries.”

Moreover, a 2010 article entitled “Why Do Women Still Earn Less Than Men?” in Time magazine found that U.S. women still earned only 77 cents on the male dollar (based on 2008 census statistics).  And the numbers do not look any better even when you account for differences in industries.  “Women earned less than men in all 20 industries and 25 occupation groups surveyed by the Census Bureau in 2007 — even in fields in which women’s numbers are overwhelming.”

According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, in New Jersey (where I live), “on average, a woman working full time is paid $44,166 per year, while a man working full time is paid $57,738 per year.  This creates a wage gap of $13,572.  [And] as a group, full-time working women in New Jersey lose approximately $15,781,630,040 each year due to the wage gap.  If the wage gap were eliminated, New Jersey’s working women and their families would have enough money for: 101 more weeks of food (2 years’ worth);6 more months of mortgage and utilities payments; 12 more months of rent; 4 more years of family health insurance premiums; [and] More than 4,000 additional gallons of gas.”  That is staggering.

Now I am not arguing that the wage gap between the sexes is solely women’s fault for not negotiating and I am not ignoring the realities of gender bias in the workplace and sexual discrimination.  However, I wonder how much of that 77 cents on the dollar could be reduced by breaking out of the mold and asking for what we want fearlessly…like our male counterparts do.

Because when we do ask, it can work.  I took a workshop on negotiating with Linda Babcock when I was a graduate student at the Heinz College.  And after the workshop I read her book and tried to make it my mantra to ask.  I have negotiated every job offer that I have ever received.  This means that I have never taken the first offer and I have always countered.  I am not the richest woman in the world, but my salary has increased 205% in a little more than 10 years.  And according to WomenDontAsk.Com, one study found that “women who consistently negotiate their salary increases earn at least $1 million more during their careers than women who don’t.”

Women need to know how to ask and need to feel comfortable doing so.  Women Don’t Ask offers real-life examples of the differences in negotiating styles and habits of men versus women, and helps women to get their heads around making asking part of their regularly-used toolkit.

With so many people, not just women out of work these days, and the job market being more competitive than ever before, women have to be skilled negotiators.  So I’d suggest picking up a copy of Women Don’t Ask for you, your sister, your daughter, your friend, etc.  And while you’re at it, check out Linda Babcock and Sarah Laschever’s latest book, Ask For It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want.

Let’s try and chisel away at the $.23 gap.