The social costs of negotiating

Another factor that influences whether women negotiate is the perception that if they do, there will be a social backlash.  Women who negotiate are often seen as breaking gender role-based expectations.  Women are supposed to be nice and undemanding; and behaviours that may be viewed positively in men as ‘professional’ or ‘assertive’ can be interpreted as ‘pushy’ and ‘aggressive’ in women.  In other words, the lens through which we view women’s approaches to salary negotiation is a very different one to that applies to men. 

A 2005 study by Linda Babcock, Hannah Riley Bowles and Lei Lai supports this explanation for why women may be less likely to negotiate their starting salaries.  The study found a substantial social backlash towards women who negotiated. Women who negotiated were penalised, with both men and women evaluators expressing less desire to work with or hire them.

It is important here to point out that employers also play a role in this problem, in terms of their hiring processes.  If the expectation is that new employees have to negotiate their own starting salaries, then men are clearly advantaged as they can negotiate without repercussion.  It appears that women have to deal with the social costs of salary negotiation in a way that men don’t.