Helping Women Executives to Negotiate

DiversityInc, November 17th, 2009

By Sam Ali

Nov 17, 2009

Say the word "negotiation" and most women cringe.

When men are asked to pick a metaphor to describe the negotiating process, they tend to pick fun activities such as "winning a ballgame" or a "wrestling match," according to Linda Babcock, an economics professor at the H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon and author of a book on gender and negotiation, "Women Don't Ask."

Women, on the other hand, tend to lump negotiating in the same category as, say, "going to the dentist."

Babcock first began suspecting there was a negotiation gender divide when she was the director of the Ph.D. program at Carnegie Mellon and noticed women students were less inclined to ask for things.

"Male graduate students asked for all sorts of things–travel money to go to conferences, exemptions from course requirements, opportunities to teach courses of their own–that the female students rarely asked for,'' Babcock says. "Looking at the repercussions down the road, it became clear that, as a result, the female students were missing out on a lot of resources and opportunities from which the men were benefiting.''

"Laboratory and field studies suggest that women tend to enter salary negotiations with lower pay expectations, which are then ultimately fulfilled,'' according to a Harvard study, "When Does Gender Matter in Negotiation?" by professors Hannah Riley and Kathleen L. McGinn. "One field study of MBA salary negotiations found that males negotiated significantly higher increases on initial salary offers than did female peers."

At Accenture, No. 23 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity® list, training is geared toward helping women negotiate.

"Historically, women have faced challenges in negotiations across the broad spectrum of the population,'' says Jenifer H. Lampi, senior manager in charge of this program. "What we wanted to see is how and if this applied to women at Accenture.''

To that end, the company is launching a pilot program Nov. 12—13 based on Babcock's work, as well as Harvard University's "Getting to Yes'' negotiation project, to help their female executives hone their negotiating skills.

Lampi says a select group of 30 female senior executives will attend the two-day workshop, which is designed to help them improve their interactive skills, bridge gaps, gain consensus and reach agreements both internally and externally.

"We want them to practice and utilize different negotiation techniques that will allow them in the end to be more successful during interactions and help us deliver high performance to our clients and improve the overall skills of people at Accenture to be more principled and reasonable and consistent," Lampi says.

Accenture is also using its own internal resources to run the workshops, such as using its own employees "who are specialists in negotiating and understand how to teach negotiation concepts.''

"Companies and managers can also mentor women in their organizations about the importance of letting their supervisors know what they want and what would help them do their jobs better,'' Babcock says. Click here to read more articles on mentoring.

Consider these statistics from Babcock's research:

  • In surveys, 2.5 times more women than men say they feel "a great deal of apprehension" about negotiating

  • Men initiate negotiations about four times as often as women Women will pay as much as $1,353 to avoid negotiating the price of a car

  • Women are more pessimistic about how much is available when they do negotiate and so they typically ask for and get less when they do negotiate–on average, 30 percent less than men

  • 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

  • Women report salary expectations between 3 percent and 32 percent lower than those of men for the same jobs; men expect to earn 13 percent more than women during their first year of full-time work and 32 percent more at their career peaks

"We calculated that just by not negotiating her first job offer–simply accepting what she's offered rather than negotiating for more–a woman sacrifices more half a million dollars over the course of her career,'' Babcock says. "This is a massive loss for a one-time negotiation–for avoiding what is usually no more than five minutes of discomfort.''