Gender Pay Gap Culprit: Lousy Negotiating Skills

Don Tennant

That the disparity in pay between men and women in the work force is alive and well is news to no one, least of all women. There is some new data out, however, in the form of a U.S. Government Accountability Office report that focused strictly on managers, and that's being cited as underscoring the need for women to develop their negotiation skills.

 

The GAO report released last month found that female managers are paid 81 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. I discussed that discrepancy earlier this week with Lee Miller, co-author with his daughter Jessica Miller of "A Woman's Guide to Successful Negotiating." The Millers argue that the gender pay gap is attributable in large part to women being less adept at negotiating than men, and men being willing to take advantage of that.

 

According to Miller, the root of the difference in the way men and women negotiate lies in the difference in the way they view relationships:

Men value relationships in terms of what they can get out of them. Women value relationships not for what they can get out of them-they value the relationship in and of itself, and that has a definitive impact on how both genders negotiate. Even if that isn't your tendency or your style, it's what's expected because the majority of men and women behave that way, and you have to deal with those expectations. Many women are afraid that if they negotiate, asking for what they deserve is going to negatively affect the relationship. And to be honest with you, men take advantage of that-they understand it, and they take advantage of it.

The good news, Miller says, is that women have innate skills that can be tapped to substantially improve their effectiveness at negotiating:

I would say the two biggest [advantages that women have over men] are the ability to build relationships, which is an important tool when you negotiate; and the ability to listen effectively. Men, including myself, tend to not listen as well as we could. Women tend to have that critical skill, maybe because they have to listen when they deal with children-children don't communicate as effectively, so they have to listen better. So women, generally, are better listeners, and they're better at encouraging people, especially men, to give information. And those are major advantages for women-when they learn the techniques of how to negotiate, those inherent skills are very powerful.

Miller spent 20 years in human resources, and served as senior vice president of HR at TV Guide, USA Networks and Barneys New York. In that capacity, he's interviewed and negotiated with plenty of IT professionals, so I asked him if women in IT are any different from women in other fields when it comes to negotiating. His response:

I think women in IT are about the same as women elsewhere-I haven't noticed any difference there. I was hiring as the head of HR when the market was very hot. Women didn't negotiate as much as men, and equally important in the IT world, women didn't change jobs as often as men. Every time you change jobs, it's an opportunity to negotiate a big increase.

In a forthcoming post, I'm going to cover 10 tips that the Millers offer for women to improve their negotiation skills, but one additional bit of advice is worthy of note here. Women should take advantage of what Miller calls "virtual negotiating"-using tools such as e-mail, instant messaging and social media that don't involve a face-to-face meeting:

There's been a lot of research that shows that virtual negotiating can be a big plus for women-it plays to some of their advantages under certain circumstances. By now it's fairly accepted that women have a tough time saying no; they have a tough time asking for what they deserve for themselves. Research shows they are better able to do both of those things, which are key to negotiating, if they do it online.


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