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Damned if They Do

There’s an interesting article
in yesterday’s Washington Post about recent studies by Linda C. Babcock, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, and Hannah Riley Bowles, who studies the psychology of organizations at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, that investigated the salary gap between men and women. Apparently, women are not only less assertive than men when it comes to negotiating, but they’re also penalized when they do get up the nerve to ask for more. The studies …

found that men and women get very different responses when they initiate negotiations. Although it may well be true that women often hurt themselves by not trying to negotiate, this study found that women’s reluctance was based on an entirely reasonable and accurate view of how they were likely to be treated if they did. Both men and women were more likely to subtly penalize women who asked for more — the perception was that women who asked for more were “less nice.”

“What we found across all the studies is men were always less willing to work with a woman who had attempted to negotiate than with a woman who did not,” Bowles said. “They always preferred to work with a woman who stayed mum. But it made no difference to the men whether a guy had chosen to negotiate or not.”

It’s therefore not all that surprising that …

Women were less likely than men to negotiate when they believed they would be dealing with a man, but there was no significant difference between men and women when they thought a woman would be making the decision. The applicants, in other words, were accurately reading how males and females were likely to perceive them.

“This isn’t about fixing the women,” Bowles said. “It isn’t about telling women, ‘You need self-confidence or training.’ They are responding to incentives within the social environment.”

Indeed.

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