Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide
Publication Type:Web Article
Year of Publication:2003
Kitty B. Macbean, a Virginia media specialist, finds personal resonance in the authors’ explanation of the cultural influences that lead women to sell themselves short—from the concept of nice girls to the Cinderella story.
Citation: Babcock, L & Laschever, S. (2003). Women don’t ask: Negotiation and the gender divide. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
By Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever
Princeton University Press
Reviewed by Kitty B. MacBean
Chamberlayne Elementary School
Henrico County Public Schools (VA)
That men make more money and rise more rapidly in the corporate world with more professional opportunities made available to them on a regular basis is not a surprise to anyone. I, for one, am a product of a generation of women who were taught that "nice girls" don't ask for what they want. Furthermore, I work in a profession dominated by women; therefore, I make even less than the 76 cents on the dollar that my colleagues in business make compared to many men in business with comparable education and experience. It is a circumstance that I have alternately railed against and accepted with resignation in my 29 years as a public school educator.
What I find refreshing about Women Don't Ask is that the authors express neither anger nor wistfulness as part of their argument. They present their thesis — "women just don't ask" as a simple statement of fact, and then they support that statement with interesting empirical research and anecdotal evidence.
If it is simply a matter of "more men ask" for what they want than women because of the variety of cultural messages that they receive as infants and young children, then the charge to parents and educators like myself seems clear — it is time to become aware of the messages that we are inadvertently (and unwittingly) sending our girl children and start making a more deliberate effort to train them to think quite intentionally to negotiate for the things they want and need in life. As for those like myself who have spent most of their careers hanging back and wishing for more — more money, more advancement, more professional recognition — this book also provides strategies for changing the kind of thinking that has held us back and offers suggestions for building negotiation strategies that might be used from this point on.
One of the strengths of this book is that it lays out its case in a clear and compelling manner. It points out that part of the "problem" with women not asking for what they want is that women, in general, "expect life to be fair." They trust that if they work hard enough and perform well enough, sooner or later someone will notice and will provide them with their "just rewards." Indeed, I suggest that women either consciously or subconsciously believe in the fairy tales we were told as children — and stories that were not fairy tales.
How many women, for example, heard and were inspired by the Lana Turner story? At the age of 15, Turner was idly sipping a Coke in a neighborhood diner when she was discovered by a movie producer and plucked up from an otherwise mundane life to become a cinema sex goddess. As for fairy tales, take the Sleeping Beauty story with its clear message of the merits of waiting — wait around long enough (I believe it was 100 years wasn't it?) and one's prince will arrive and whisk one away to an everlastingly happy ending. Cinderella, too, had been trained not to ask for nor to expect much, but her inner beauty and worthiness were recognized in spite of her circumstances, and in the end she was sought after and rescued.
These are powerful messages that we think are benign until we realize that they give us, our daughters and granddaughters wrong messages about the need to wait to be discovered while our sons and grandsons fully participate in life by competing in the open and asking for what they want and what they deserve (because we have told them to).
I found that Women Don't Ask resonated deeply in my own life. I thought about how my husband and I approach situations differently: he never accepts that rules are "rules," for example. As far as he is concerned, rules are merely "guidelines," and if he wishes to inquire about changing them, then he is more than willing to investigate that possibility. I approach rules as something to be followed without question. I thought it was because, as a teacher I have to set rules in my classroom that the children must obey. I assumed that I have more respect for rules than my husband. Now I suspect that it goes deeper than that and is a result of the different conditioning we each had as male and female children.
Another interesting point in Women Don't Ask is the notion that men and women differ so much in their recognition of life's opportunities. According to researchers, say the authors, men average a higher sense of "locus of control." That is, men believe more in their ability to make life happen than women who experience life (external forces outside their control) as simply happening. For women to develop a greater sense of control over their own lives requires a significant paradigm shift that is probably long overdue.
In this book, the authors offer not only hope but a concrete argument that women don't have to be more like men in order to succeed in business or to learn how to succeed in getting what they want and need in life. Indeed, the authors point out that women already have an advantage over men that they have, until now, overlooked and upon which they have not capitalized.
The advantage to which the authors point is that for women, negotiation need not be a contest, game, or competition but a collaboration. Indeed, the authors point out that women have some advantages that can "make them outshine men at negotiating." (p. 165) In fact, the authors talk about a cooperative advantage to negotiations with an eye toward an integrative approach. This approach as opposed to the "fixed-pie bias" offers negotiators strategies that may lead to what are considered "win-win" solutions in negotiations. The tactics include asking questions, listening, sharing information, and trying to find solutions that satisfy the needs of both sides. The tactics differ dramatically from the more competitive win-lose approach, but which in today's world may actually be more effective. As important, Babcock and Laschever argue, these integrative tactics involve behaviors at which women often excel.
The book ends on the hopeful note that "women can transform the workplace by expressing, not giving up, their personal values." It is important for women to know that (a) they can negotiate for pay and benefits that are commensurate to their education, their work, and their contribution to the workplace; and (b) they don't necessarily have to be like men in order to be successful .
Women have been subconsciously selling themselves short bysetting their targets too low. The days of coy communicating must end. The day for direct communication must begin. This new training should not be reserved for our girls only. Our sons can also learn from the model of integrative negotiation so that there is less war, less competition for crucial resources, and more collaboration in solving the world's problems . We might find that our global community grows and thrives while everyone is a winner and no one is a loser.