Women have made great strides advancing workplace gender equality in recent decades, but the gender pay gap persists, limiting their ability to achieve true parity.
While salary transparency is an important step toward more equitable conditions, women are still more likely to feel that negotiating their pay will be perceived negatively by their employer.
Nearly seven in 10 women (69%) feel anxious about negotiating pay, with one in five (20%) fearing that asking for a salary boost will damage their career.
This “confidence gap” remains a barrier to achieving gender pay equity.
Women face unique challenges with negotiating due to gender bias and societal expectations. This issue affects not only individuals: Diverse business teams perform better, but challenges in negotiating can limit women’s ability to reach upper management levels, resulting in less diverse leadership.
However, with the right training, women can be excellent negotiators — both for themselves and others.
In this article, we’ll explore the unique challenges women face in negotiating, and the benefits of empowering them to become better negotiators. We’ll also look at strategies to achieve this, including how to use talent assessments to determine and address skills gaps.
Note: The challenges faced in negotiating are not exclusive to cisgender women. Trans and feminine-presenting people face similar issues. However, as data for these groups is limited, this post is primarily focused on the experiences of cisgender women.
From unconscious gender bias and stereotypes to dealing with imposter syndrome, women face many challenges in negotiating pay and being promoted to leadership levels — and not only in traditionally male-dominated industries.
More women need to be empowered in the creative and advertising industry as, arguably, our particular field perpetuates the social imbalance. If more advertising and creative marketing was led by women, we would see more diverse stories, situations, and perspectives that would help normalize women in every aspect of society.
Let’s uncover some of the specific challenges that women face in negotiating.
Gender bias is one major obstacle that stops women from becoming stronger negotiators. Particularly limiting are stereotypes about how women are supposed to behave in the workplace.
In addition to prejudice from higher-ups, women may also experience stereotype threat — a psychological phenomenon in which individuals from a marginalized group feel pressure to conform to negative stereotypes associated with them. Traits can include a perceived lack of competence and self-doubt.
Stereotype threat is believed to be a contributing factor to long-standing racial and gender gaps in performance.
For women of color (WOC), the issue can be compounded due to the intersectionality of their identities (“women” and “Black” do not exist independently of each other). This adds another layer of complexity to the challenges they face in the workplace, and they often don’t feel encouraged to negotiate. This is because they fear facing additional bias based on both their gender and race.
Typically, the word “negotiation” implies formal and contractual dealmaking, like job offers, client contracts, or pay. This stereotype of negotiation as a form of formal bargaining is usually associated with white men and can hamper women’s ability to get what they need.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is recognizing that there’s a space to negotiate, and where that space doesn’t exist, creating it. I’ve had to train myself to be less automatically accepting; to react to a response from a potential partner or customer, for example, not as a fait accompli, but as a starting point.
When women and WOC don’t negotiate, this can lead to a lack of representation and inclusion in decision-making processes or at leadership levels. This further perpetuates the disparities in representation, pay, and conditions they experience.
Deeply ingrained gender roles lie at the heart of the gender gap in negotiated outcomes, such as the expectation for women to be nurturing and accommodating.
From a young age, girls are encouraged and expected to be relationship-oriented and concerned with the welfare of others. This means society expects women to prioritize harmonious relationships and avoid conflict, which can work against them in negotiations.
My sister and I were raised with the mantra, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” It wasn’t ill-intended, but that type of message really dissuaded me from voicing objections and advocating for an outcome that worked better for me.
This doesn’t fit with the assertive behaviors typically considered essential to succeed in negotiations, which are more commonly associated with men. For example, there are societal expectations for boys and men to be competitive, assertive, and profit-oriented.
When women assert themselves and advocate for their own interests, they may be perceived as aggressive or “bossy.” This can undermine their credibility and diminish their chances of achieving successful negotiation outcomes. As a result, they may be uncomfortable negotiating on their own behalf.
There’s an expectation in the workplace that women will be more likely to say “yes” and pick up additional work or responsibilities, rather than negotiate their way out of it.
Challenges women face in negotiating directly impact their ability to advance in their careers — and for you to develop more inclusive leadership.
Specifically, negotiations play a significant role in determining salaries and compensation packages. However, gender bias and stereotypes can result in women receiving lower initial salary offers and issues with negotiating equitable pay raises. Over time, this contributes to the gender pay gap, limiting women’s financial progress and impeding their career advancement.
Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which individuals doubt their own skills and accomplishments.
This pattern, characterized by self-doubt and the persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud — despite evidence of competence — can undermine confidence and hinder negotiation skills. This can have a significant impact on women’s performance in business negotiations.
When women don’t negotiate or don’t achieve their goals, it hurts everyone. There are many benefits for companies, employees, and society of empowering women to become better negotiators, including:
Improved financial performance by leveraging diverse perspectives and inclusive leadership
Employee satisfaction, morale, and retention, which is boosted as women feel valued and empowered in their negotiation skills and contributions
Fostering a more inclusive environment by focusing on empowering women
Closing the gender pay gap by equipping women with effective negotiation skills and promoting pay transparency
When companies invest in women’s development and create a culture that values their contributions, the benefits include stronger teams, higher employee engagement, and overall success. It’s a collective effort that leads to improved financial performance, increased satisfaction, higher retention rates, and closing the gender pay gap. And when women do better, we all do better.
By empowering women to become better negotiators, companies can unlock a range of benefits and create a more equitable and inclusive workplace.
Let’s explore four ways to make this happen.
As a first step to empower women to become better negotiators, address unconscious bias and implement awareness training and education programs that highlight the impact of this form of prejudice.
By fostering a culture that recognizes and mitigates unconscious bias, you can create a level playing field for diverse candidates. This means one where women can negotiate without facing limiting stereotypes or prejudices.
Gender differences in the frequency and acceptance of requests for less “promotion-worthy” tasks may also help explain why women advance at a slower rate than men in the workplace.
Unless women spend more time at work than men, working on less-promotable tasks means they spend less time on the tasks that do count toward promotions or pay raises. This can have career consequences that go beyond the immediate opportunity cost of a less promotable assignment. For example, this can lead to lower job satisfaction, commitment, and investment levels.
Therefore, unconscious bias training should address stereotypes such as women’s readiness to accept additional or extra-curricular responsibilities.
Targeted programs that focus on negotiation skills and tactics can play a crucial role in supporting women to become better negotiators.
Anna Stella, the founder of BBSA, says: “To develop an effective negotiator, it’s essential to provide training and mentoring to support their personal growth. Negotiation skills require continuous learning and are often refined through trial and error. Creating a safe and open environment for communication is essential — it allows women to share their experiences, successes, and failures openly.”
Targeted training and development can include:
Active listening. This is a fundamental skill in negotiations which involves attentively listening to the other party’s needs, concerns, and perspectives. Teaching women to practice active listening enables them to effectively grasp the motivations of other parties, leading to more nuanced and effective negotiation strategies.
Finding common ground. This skill helps build rapport and establishes a foundation for collaboration in negotiations. Training can emphasize the importance of seeking shared interests, values, or goals with the other party. Women can learn techniques for productive discussions around negotiations in the workplace.
Value proposition. Articulating the value of their proposals to the company is essential for any negotiator. Focus on helping women effectively communicate and highlight the benefits and value their proposals bring. By demonstrating the positive impact on business outcomes, women can strengthen their negotiation positions and garner support from stakeholders.
Assertiveness and confidence building. Assist women in developing assertiveness and building confidence in negotiations with techniques to assert their needs and interests firmly, express their viewpoints, and handle challenging situations. Building confidence helps women overcome self-doubt and negotiate from a position of strength.
Collaborative problem solving. Negotiations often involve finding win-win solutions and resolving conflicts. Training can emphasize these techniques and encourage women to approach negotiations as opportunities for joint problem solving, rather than a win-lose scenario. This approach fosters creativity and builds trust.
Crucially, these types of training are also valuable for people who don’t identify as women: For instance, when men become more empathetic negotiators, women may feel less intimidated and better equipped to negotiate with them.
The reason why many women struggle with negotiation isn’t because they’re bad problem solvers. It’s often because they’re needing to solve problems through a structure that tends to reward a certain style of negotiation. For example, a more combative winner-take-all approach over alternative styles. Companies need to create space for different styles.
Women often possess qualities such as collaboration, cooperation, and empathy, which can make them effective negotiators on behalf of themselves and others. You can play to women’s strengths when you:
Prioritize finding mutually beneficial solutions. Women’s inclination toward collaboration and cooperation can be harnessed in negotiations. Encourage negotiation approaches that prioritize finding mutually beneficial solutions and building long-term relationships.
Harness emotional intelligence. Bring women’s problem-solving skills and personality traits to the table that make them naturally effective negotiators. Although negotiating may be more challenging for women, adopting specific strategies like emotional intelligence can help them steer clear of any backlash while leveraging their unique capabilities and advantages as negotiators.
Promote team-based negotiations. Harness women’s propensity for collaboration. By valuing and incorporating diverse perspectives, women can excel in negotiating on behalf of teams and achieve outcomes that reflect a broad range of interests.
Encourage relationship building. This is another valuable skill that draws on women’s strengths. Efforts like networking events, mentorship programs, and cross-functional collaborations help foster strong relationships that can create a foundation of trust, open lines of communication, and enhance negotiation processes.
Draw on women’s empathetic natures. For example, empower women to advocate for others. To do this, create opportunities for women to advocate for their colleagues, team members, or marginalized groups within the organization. These situations allow women to utilize their strengths in supporting others’ interests, amplifying diverse voices, and promoting inclusive negotiation practices.
For example, if a woman discovers that women at her organization are earning less than men, she can negotiate on behalf of herself and others. This can result in a better outcome for many people in the workplace.
Women do very well when they negotiate for the things that are crucial for their lives. For example, they’re usually very good at negotiating part-time schedules or flexible work hours so they can meet both their career and family responsibilities.
Ongoing skills development is key to empowering women negotiators. Start by using skills-based hiring to find strong women negotiators with the right soft skills who can advance your business interests.
For those already on your team, regular talent assessments also help to identify specific skills gaps in negotiation abilities.
By assessing their current skill set and benchmarking it against desired competencies, you can design targeted training programs to address these gaps. This ensures that women receive the necessary support and development opportunities to enhance their negotiation skills.
For example, use talent assessments like situational judgment tests to evaluate someone’s ability to secure objectives, influence conversations, leverage counterparties’ insights positively and skilfully, and handle associated negotiation emotions such as frustration, stress, anger, irritation, and fear.
Additionally, leverage talent assessments during the hiring process to promote a more inclusive and receptive environment for women negotiators. For instance, you can use skills testing to identify male candidates who possess the necessary soft skills for fair negotiation, such as collaboration, empathy, and inclusivity..
Assessing candidates based on these attributes can help mitigate unconscious biases and select individuals who are more likely to be supportive of women negotiators. This fosters a culture where gender diversity is valued and men actively contribute to creating an inclusive negotiation environment.
Women can become excellent negotiators despite the challenges they face. Often, they encounter implicit bias and stereotypes that undermine their effectiveness as negotiators. They may also be perceived as less assertive or less competent in general, which can create additional barriers and unfair expectations.
Women may also struggle with confidence issues and imposter syndrome, limiting their ability to self-advocate. Societal conditioning and gender norms contribute to self-doubt, hesitation to assert their value, and fear of being perceived as pushy or aggressive.
However, in author Ruth Rablott’s words, “‘Unhiding’ is pivotal in empowering women as negotiators and promoting diversity and inclusion. Negotiations become more inclusive and collaborative by encouraging women to “unhide” their voices, ideas, and perspectives. When women feel comfortable expressing their authentic selves, they can contribute their diverse thoughts and approaches to the negotiation process.”
Women bring unique perspectives and approaches to negotiations, so empowering them as negotiators enables diverse voices to be heard, leading to better outcomes and stronger teamwork. This means companies can experience enhanced collaboration, innovation, and problem solving — and start to close the gender pay gap.
Companies that prioritize empowering women in negotiations are also creating a more inclusive and supportive work environment. This fosters higher employee satisfaction, engagement, and retention, benefiting the overall company culture and reducing turnover costs.
Empowering women as negotiators is a win-win situation that fosters diversity, equity, and inclusion while driving business growth and success. Through targeted training, development programs, and skills-based assessments that identify the right soft skills, women can thrive in negotiations, prove their abilities, and enhance their skills and careers.
Want to empower your women employees to be better negotiators? Talent assessments let you develop women’s skills and empower them to perform better.Download the State of Skills-based Hiring 2022 report to learn more.
“Workplace Equity Communications Playbook” (2023) Syndio Retrieved June 13, 2023. https://synd.io/workplace-equity-communications-playbook/
“Negotiating as a Woman of Color” (2022). Harvard Business Review. Retrieved June 13, 2023. https://hbr.org/2022/01/negotiating-as-a-woman-of-color
“Women and Negotiation: Narrowing the Gender Gap in Negotiation” (2023) Harvard Law School. Retrieved June 13, 2023. https://www.pon.harvard.edu/daily/business-negotiations/women-and-negotiation-narrowing-the-gender-gap/
“Gender differences in Accepting and Receiving Requests for Tasks with Low Promotability” (2017) American Economic Review. Retrieved June 13, 2023. https://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/aer.20141734
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