Wednesday 20 March 2019

Why do women find it so hard to ask their boss for more?

Lisa Jewell

With news of redundancies and unemployment, it may not seem like the best time to be asking for a raise or promotion.

But there is truth to the old saying that if you don't ask, you don't get. And it seems that if you're of the fairer sex, you're much less likely to negotiate for better pay and career prospects.

Linda Babcock, the co-author of new book Why Women Don't Ask, says a lot has been written about the art of negotiation but very little on how negotiations come about and who negotiates.

It turns out that men are four times more likely to ask for higher pay than women who have the same qualifications.

"The fact that women don't negotiate as much as men do isn't a totally new idea," Babcock says. "But it is something that women are increasingly beginning to wake up to."

Babcock, who is a Professor of Economics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, says that one of the biggest mistakes that women make is in agreeing to their starting salary.

"We've heard of a lot of cases where women didn't actually negotiate for their starting salary in their first job but just accepted the first figure that was mentioned," she says. "It sets them up for the future as pay raises are based on a percentage of that starting salary. It means that the person will never really catch up on what they should be earning."

Women who don't ask for the correct starting salary or for pay rises are losing out on potentially hundreds of thousands of euro over the course of their career.

A recent report by the Higher Education Authority confirms that fact. Even though women are more likely to get honours degrees, twice as many men as women report earning over €45,000 as their starting salary.

"It's not just about the money though," says Babcock. "What can happen further down the line is that a potential employer looks at a CV and perceives that someone isn't earning as much as she should be earning for that position.

"The employer makes the incorrect inference that the worker isn't as valuable. When in reality, the person could be doing a really great job but just not getting the pay that they deserve."

Babcock has first-hand experience of dealing with the fact that women don't ask. As a professor, she was regularly approached by male students who were looking for teaching opportunities.

'A lot of the female students also wanted to teach but they didn't ask for the opportunities," she says. "I didn't notice that it was men who were being active about it. I had to become more aware of what was going on and not make assumptions about who wants what.

"In a situation like that, it's good to perhaps send out a message to say there are opportunities available and whoever is interested should come and ask about them."

The workplace is often viewed as a place where all is fair in love and war. So isn't it too bad for women if they don't speak up for themselves?

"The last thing I would want is for people to blame women because it's really a societal issue, about the way that men and women are brought up and conditioned to think about things like assertiveness and control.

"Research has shown that women believe that if they work hard, that it will be noticed and rewarded by their employer. On the other hand, men are more likely to make people aware of their hard work and to ask for career prospects and pay rises to reflect it.

"We have to appreciate as well that society thinks differently about men and women and how they perform in the workplace. Men can be very successful and influential even if people don't particularly like them. But even if women are effective as leaders, they still have to have a likeability factor. Men have much more freedom to be aggressive."

Rosemary Delaney, Managing Editor of Women Mean Business magazine, agrees that women don't ask enough for better pay or career opportunities.

"Part of the reason for that may be that they don't necessarily want a promotion as they want more time for work-life balance," she says.

"But there are also women who want to progress more but don't have the confidence to get what they want.

"The problem can sometimes be that women genuinely want to enjoy what they do in the workplace and that's at the cost of taking less of a salary.

"I do think that things are changing and the fairer sex are thinking, 'Why am I not getting that increase?' It's really important that women have role models and peers they can look to for encouragement and support."

But even though Rosemary thinks women should take the plunge and ask for better pay or career prospects, she advises that they take time to figure out how to go about it.

"It's really about being very logical in your approach and demonstrating to your boss that you've added value to the company. You can't allow emotion to come into it or take it too personally."

Careers coach Paul Mullan says that the nature of negotiation has changed a good deal in the past few years.

"People probably perceive it that it has to have a winner and a loser and someone has to dominate in it," he says. "But negotiation is really about a discussion and give and take.

"It's only by becoming more honed in your negotiation skills that you can become more effective at getting what you want.

"It doesn't really bode well if you're the type of person who prefers to move job instead of negotiating for better prospects.

"The problem will always follow you around and from a career prospect, you won't go as high as you want to or as high as you deserve."

Why Women Don't Ask by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever is published by Piatkus (€17.95).

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