Friday, March 13, 2015

Negotiating Across Gender: A Workshop

If you’ve ever found yourself in need of a better salary, a title that reflects your skill set, or a bigger staff to get the job done, then this week’s WAPPP seminar applies to you. Harvard Kennedy School Senior Lecturer in Public Policy and WAPPP Research Director Hannah Riley Bowles used the workshop to guide attendees through a research-based negotiations toolkit she recently created. Bowles argued that these main takeaways can help anyone - not just women - succeed in their professional negotiations.

1. Apply negotiations skills broadly. Bowles encouraged attendees to think about negotiation skills broadly, since academics and the media tend to focus too closely on salary negotiations. Through negotiation, employees can enhance their recognition and rewards (i.e. securing a new title or getting their name on research), seize opportunities to expand their authority (i.e. budget or who reports to them), overcome barriers, since more powerful employees are more prone to action, and make their work more personally meaningful.

The research: A recent Simmons CGO Survey of 364 female executives revealed that 80% of participants reported recent career negotiations. The most commonly cited opportunity that involved negotiations was seeking a new position or leadership opportunity, demonstrating that negotiating is about more than just salary.

2. Avoid ambiguity. Bowles encouraged attendees to consider the importance of ambiguity in negotiations. Research shows that ambiguity can lead to a heightened potential for gender-specific attributions, especially if the employees are operating in a gendered environment. There are two types of ambiguity at play here: norm ambiguity, or the degree of clarity about norms for appropriate negotiating behavior, and structural ambiguity, or the degree of clarity about zone of possible agreement and appropriate standards for agreement. When you provide employees with these standards, however, the gender gap disappears.

The research: A study that Bowles conducted on MBA graduate job market outcomes highlighted the power of ambiguity. Controlling for 30 variables that might otherwise explain the difference in income, Bowles found an overall gender gap of $5,000 (on an average salary of $100,000). In low ambiguity situations, such as investment banking and consulting, which comprised 70% of the sample, there was no gender gap difference. However, in high ambiguity situations, Bowles observed a 10% salary gap, leading to an average gender gap of $11,000 a year.

3. Be conscious of where you get your information. Bowles cautioned to make sure that our information search itself isn’t gendered, as we are likely to compare ourselves to those who are similar to us, therefore creating a self-perpetuating cycle. Since informal networks enhance access to information and advocacy channels, it’s important to reach outside of convenience networks to get information.

4. Watch out for stereotypes – both others’ and your own. There are several kinds of stereotypes in negotiation. Explicit and implicit biases might be more familiar to us; the former is easier to recognize and therefore avoid or correct, while the latter is harder to detect. There is also descriptive stereotyping (assumptions about what an individual will do) and prescriptive stereotyping (assumptions about what an individual should do). Bowles explained that self-advocacy violates society’s prescriptive stereotypes of feminine behavior, which in turn limits willingness to work with or hire the woman who violated that norm.

The research: Using a study of a fake resumes with a gender-neutral name, Bowles found that women who advocate for themselves are perceived much more negatively than women who advocate for others.

5. Enhance negotiations through relationships, and enhance relationships through negotiations. Bowles argued that explaining why what you’re asking for is legitimate in your employer's eyes will enhance your chances of getting what you’re asking for. In addition, signaling concern for your organizational relationships can mitigate the social cost of such negotiations. While some question whether teaching organizations to reward women who act relationally and don’t reward the women who don’t is helpful for women's professional prospects, Bowles asserted that the skills she encourages women to use are good practice for any employee facing a negotiation situation.

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