Negotiation and the gender divide

Linda Babcock, Sara Laschever - Princeton University Press - 2021 - 223 pages

Women Don't Ask

2022 May 12 | by Arduino Mancini Leadership - Negotiation - Women and Men

The mistake a man might make when reading the title of this book is to stop and think that its contents only concerns women.

But, as I said, that would be a mistake.

That is why I warmly invite everyone to continue reading this review and to work with me to answer two rather complicated questions:

  • Why do we find more men than women in leadership positions, in the business and the society at large?
  • Why do women earn less than men in the same position, even when they performe better?

The answer, for Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, is nearly banal:

women achieve less simply because they do not ask

even when the situation fully justifies their requests.

In this must-read book, the authors describe the whole situation using countless business cases and quantitative research to bring to the reader’s attention some crucial points:

  • women tend to avoid negotiation. For example, when they receive a job offer, a woman’s prevalent behaviour is to accept or reject it, while men usually negotiate upwards, sometimes even when there are no reasons to do so;
  • when it comes to valuing their contribution to the organization’s results, maybe after a performance appraisal, while the man not always rightly declares the quality of his work, the woman waits patiently for someone to notice her results, without claiming them.

Things are not much different in the private life; even when it comes to sharing domestic work or holidays, the all-female reluctance to put their own needs on the table and negotiate can penalize the whole family.

The picture that emerges is that of a Society where social differences and discrimination, although mitigated in recent decades, are still so strong to make social development inefficient and penalize economic development.

Why do women behave this way? There are many reasons.

Here are a few:

  • when faced with difficult situations, such as those mentioned above, women think they cannot achieve their goals;
  • when asking, they fear spoiling a relationship they care about (with the company, with their partner, with friends);
  • they have learnt that the society can react negatively to women who declare their needs and claim their results;
  • the idea of negotiation they have in mind (and that they reject) is the competitive one, i.e. the one that puts the two parties against each other in a challenge that leads to only one winner.

How do overcome this?

Women must change their attitudes and learn to ask and negotiate to get, claiming their achievements.

The importance of this book is in providing women with useful guidelines on how to manage a few key points:

  • asking for what they want without feeling awkward;
  • feeling comfortable in negotiation, adopting strategies that enable them to reach shared solutions, not in the interest of only one of the parties involved;
  • learn to consider the impact of the negotiation on their relationships;
  • strive to overcome inequalities, which are fundamentally unfair and economically unsustainable in the long run.

And it is precisely this last point that also concerns men, also as parents and people who have a specific responsibility in building the future; women represent a source of knowledge and expertise that we can no longer afford to keep inactive.

An intellectual capital that we must unleash and put to work in the interest of all, to build companies and a civil society able to grow and evolve through shared negotiating solutions, meeting different interests.

In short, a book to read, especially as parents and people who feel a responsibility to build a better future.

Below is a short video in which Linda Babcock presents her book, then the summary.




Preface – Why negotiation, and why now?
Introduction – Women don’t ask
Chapter one – Opportunity doesn’t always knock
Chapter two – A price higher than rubies
Chapter three – Nice girls don’t ask
Chapter four – Scaring the boys
Chapter five – Fear of asking
Chapter six – Low goals and safe targets
Chapter seven – Just so much and no more
Chapter eight – The female advantage
Epilogue – Negotiating at home





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