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The Things We Do: Why Women Don't Ask for More Money

Roxanne Bauer's picture

At the basis of communication and public policy are assumptions about human beings- their rationality or irrationality, their foibles, wants and preferences. A lot depends on whether these assumptions are correct. In this feature, we bring you fascinating examples of human behavior from across the globe.

Salaries are a crucial element to any job.  Not only do they determine an individual's income this year, but also their compensation throughout their tenure at an organization. If a salary starts out at the low end, then raises and yearly bonuses will also be at the low end, as they are likely calculated as a percentage of a worker's salary. This pattern continues year after year. Thus, it's smart to negotiate for the highest possible salary.

But if you’re a woman, chances are good that you will not do so.

NPR recently aired a story, Why Women Don't Ask For More Money, on this topic, which explored why women often undervalue themselves and don't ask for enough money-- if they ask at all.

Ashley Milne-Tyte from NPR's Planet Money team interviewed Emily Amanatullah, a management professor at the University of Texas, who set up a research experiment in which male and female participants were asked to negotiate a starting salary for themselves. The men achieved better results than the women.

Then the participants were asked to negotiate a salary for a friend. According to Amanatullah, "on average women who were negotiating for themselves threw out a counteroffer that was $7,000 less than women who were negotiating for someone else," demonstrating that women can bargain well but may feel restricted when they themselves are the main benefactors.

Amanatullah says when women advocate for themselves, they also have to managing their reputations in the process. Women are oftem concerned about the reputational risks of negotiating for more money, and they have cause to worry. If they negotiate for an increase in their salaries with a male boss, the research suggests they will be penalized in a way their male counterparts will not be. On the other hand, if the boss is female, its more likely she will penalize both males and females who ask for more.

If this is true, what is a woman to do? 

Perhaps adopting a comunal motivation in their negotiations would help women to get what they deserve.   Men can talk about how competent they are. Women, however, need to connect their competencies to how they benefit their team or their organization.  The communal orientation—it’s not about me, but about what I can do for you—may mitigate some of the negative reputational affects for women.

Women can also think about negotiating a raise a little differently by reminding themselves of the other people, like elder parents or children, that their salaries support so the negotiation doesn't seem like it's all about them.

To listen to the story or to read a transcript of it, please visit NPR.

Photograph courtesy of I. Djokovic via the World Bank Photo Collection, available here

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