Why Women Have Trouble Negotiating for More Money

Last Updated Nov 30, 2010 11:45 AM EST

I'd like to make more money. Wouldn't you?
Dumb question, I know.

It's not that women don't deserve to to make more. They do.

It's not that women don't ask for raises. While many hesitate, they do ask.

But many women feel uncomfortable. It feels unseemly, even selfish to ask for a pay bump or increase in rates. And, some women fear they may alienate their boss or clients in the process of negotiating for more.

This queasiness is not just an individual problem. It's part of a cultural construct, according to Hannah Riley Bowles, an associate professor in management and decision making at the Harvard Kennedy School. In a not-yet-published study, Bowles asked people what they thought of the efforts of "employees" trying to win raises. When the employees were men, the people supported the workers' rationales for more pay. But if the employees were women? Not only were the respondents less inclined to grant the women workers what they asked for, but they also didn't like the women very much.

"Society expects women to be strong advocates for other people, but it's more 'socially costly' for women to advocate for themselves," says Bowles.

So women have no choice except to be a push over or bitch? Not exactly.

Bowles says women can ask for more money while retaining their status as top-ranked team players. The key: Make it all about benefiting the team. Couch the argument in terms of what's best for the team, the department or the company. In short,

  • Communicate that you care about the organization and your work relationships
  • Explain why your request for a raise or rate increase is appropriate in the context of those relationships.
Your message: If your boss or client gives you the raise, it's better for everybody! Here is how you might phrase your request: "I hope you see the market share we have been gaining as a win for the department. Based on that, I'd like to discuss a raise, because it's important to me to accelerate those results for next quarter."

Bowles cites the example of a woman manager who discovered that several male subordinates were earning more than her. Instead of charging to human resources with EEOC paperwork in hand, this woman focused on the company's perceived self-interest and said, "I know that this is something the company will want to fix."

And the company did.

Here are three more tips from Bowles:

  • Name drop. Borrow authority if you have to. "My mentor recommended that I bring this up with you."
  • Use the company's own language to justify the raise. "I know that this reorg has challenged us, and I'm glad I've been part of the successful relaunch. Given that we have increased our division's contribution to corporate by 10%, this seemed like a good time to discuss my compensation package for next year."
  • Mirror priorities shared with your boss or client. "We fulfilled our goal of retaining the Abacus account, and in the process, we showed how our new training program really delivers. That's why I thought I'd open a conversation with you about my salary."
Next time try these out. In the meantime, do you have any negotiating tips of your own?

Image courtesy of Morguefile contributor jeltovski.