How Avoiding Negotiation Hurts Women

I spent most of Sept. 19 at the campus of Arizona State University, conducting a negotiation study with "Good Morning America" cameras rolling. The study was based on my paper with colleagues Deborah Small, Michele Gelfand and Hillary Gettman.

Study participants signed up for our project, knowing that they would be paid between $5 and $12 for their time. When they arrived, they played a game of Boggle. When they were finished, our graduate student experimenter, Justin, went up to a participant and said, "Here is $5. Is $5 OK?"

We were, of course, watching to see who negotiated for more money. In the ASU study, we found that many more men negotiated than women. In our original paper, this gender difference was extremely large — more than eight times as many men as women negotiated (2.6 percent of women versus 22.9 percent of men).

And not only did men negotiate more often, the cameras revealed another striking difference: The men seemed extremely confident in asking for more money, while the women who did negotiate seemed very tentative. This was reinforced by the interviews that Tory Johnson conducted with the participants after the study.

One man described negotiation as really "fun" and like a game — something he enjoyed a great deal. He went on to say that negotiation was a big part of his life.

The women who negotiated reported being extremely anxious, asking for more money. And for some, the anxiety prevented them from negotiating at all, and, instead, they chose to take the $5 to avoid a negotiation.

Don't Ask, Don't Get

Why is this difference between women and men a big deal? First and foremost, it can cause women to earn much less money than men over the course of their careers.

In my book with Sara Laschever, "Women Don't Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiating and Positive Strategies for Change" (, we calculated that, by not negotiating her first job offer — simply accepting what she's offered, rather than negotiating for more — a woman sacrifices more than half a million dollars throughout her career.

This is a massive loss for a one-time avoidance — what is usually no more than five minutes of discomfort. And it's an unnecessary loss, because most employers expect people to negotiate, and, therefore, offer less than they're prepared to pay.

My research finds that far more men than women negotiate their first job offers. Since men also negotiate more than women during their careers — or negotiate more aggressively — the financial losses to women can be truly staggering.

In addition to the financial consequences, women often advance more slowly than equally qualified men, because men are more likely than women to ask for prestigious assignments, to volunteer for opportunities that will give them more visibility and to pursue raises and promotions that they think they deserve.

Women, in contrast, often expect that hard work, and high quality work, will be recognized and rewarded without their asking. And this is frequently not true. Because they don't ask to be considered for the opportunities and advantages for which men ask, they often aren't recognized for the good work they do, and don't progress as fast or as far in their careers as their talents should take them.

All of this sounds like pretty depressing news for women. But it doesn't have to be. There's a happy ending to my day with "GMA."

In the late afternoon, a woman named Anna returned to be interviewed on camera. Earlier that day, she had participated in the study, and had taken the $5 without negotiating.

In her interview with Johnson, she explained that she had been nervous about negotiating, and was worried that doing so would have been disrespectful of the experimenter. But, she said she "stewed" all day about her experience of not negotiating.

As she went through the day, she kept thinking about how there were lots of other things in her life that she accepted without negotiating, and realized what all of her negotiation avoidance was costing her. She told Johnson that from then on, she vowed to do things differently — she was going to start negotiating!

Like most other women, Anna was probably socialized to be happy with what she is offered, and to not reach for more. But, she can choose to ignore that message. It's in her power to change, and that change can reap large benefits. So, Anna, I hope you've been successful in your attempts to initiate more negotiations. Please know that you made my day!

Linda Babcock is the James Mellon Walton professor at the H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University. For more information about Babcock and her research, click here.