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What Nice Girls Don't Ask

The Careerist

July 18, 2014

Doris_Day_-_1957The following post appeared on The Careerist blog on June 30. The blog has moved to a new location—click here. (The Careerist is now behind paywall. To get five free posts a month, please register.)

Women are notoriously wimpy about advocating for themselves about compensation. Instead of marching into their manager's office and asking for a raise, women will sit in their chair and just hope (and pray) that eventually their hard work will be rewarded.

It seems logical that if the gender gap in pay is ever going to improve, women need to get a lot more aggressive about money, right?


According to a recent article by Hannah Riley Bowles in Harvard Business Review, employers looked askance at women who aggressively negotiated for more money. Those women ended up harming their careers because their bosses were less inclined to work with them after the salary discussion. Here's how HBR describes the phenomenon:

In repeated studies, the social cost of negotiating for higher pay has been found to be greater for women than it is for men. Men can certainly overplay their hand and alienate negotiating counterparts. However, in most published studies, the social cost of negotiating for pay is not significant for men, while it is significant for women.

It turns out there's good reason why women are hesitant about negotiating for more pay. "They are intuiting—correctly—that self-advocating for higher pay would present a socially difficult situation for them—more so than for men," says HBR.

Ironically, it's perfectly acceptable for women to be strong advocates on behalf of other people. HBR says:

We love it when women negotiate assertively for others. It’s just when women are negotiating assertively for themselves—particularly around pay—where we find a backlash.

By that standard, it seems women should make superb lawyers. Everyone should love female lawyers—so long as they keep their mouths shut and not protest about being paid less than their male counterparts!

Not to despair. HBR says there are ways for women to finesse for money without alienating management:

First, you want to explain to your negotiating counterpart why—in their eyes—it’s legitimate for you to be negotiating (i.e., appropriate or justified under the circumstances). Sheryl [Sandberg] says that in her negotiations with Facebook, she told them, “Of course you realize that you’re hiring me to run your deal team so you want me to be a good negotiator.”

Second, you want to signal to your negotiating counterpart that you care about organizational relationships. After pointing out that they should want her to be a good negotiator, Sheryl recounts saying, “This is the only time you and I will ever be on opposite sides of the table.” In other words, “I am clear that we’re on the same team here.”

Put another way: A woman can't just say she deserves a raise or that it's only fair that she be paid the same as the men in her position. And God forbid a woman should just go to her manager and say, "Just give me the money, damn it!"

Instead, a woman must make a "case" about how a bump in her salary will somehow serve the greater good. If a woman wants to get what she wants/needs/deserves, it behooves her to be a sweet angel. And, yes, men don't have to play this game.

I know the article is probably on point and offers wise strategies. But, still, don't you find all this just a bit degrading?

E-mail: vchen@alm.com     Twitter: https://twitter.com/lawcareerist


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Can we just get paid equally? Women can do men's work, but most of the times, are underpaid. It is really unfair.

The double standard for women in business, law, etc., is exhausting. No wonder so many start their own companies.

When I was in private practice, I went to a compensation committee meeting with all the stats showing that the women partners were all paid less than the male partners at comparable levels (same billable hours and client revenues). Needless to say, it did not go well. The (all male) members of the committee were furious that anyone would accuse them of treating women differently than men, even though they clearly were.

Finally, someone admits it! We'll try the "team approach" so that the "team" can have a greater increase in pay...hm...and by continuing to negotiate...we'll all win..

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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