Why Women Should Embrace Negotiation

Last month, Reddit CEO Ellen Pao made headlines when she revealed she had eliminated salary negotiation at the tech company, based on the belief that allowing negotiation disadvantaged women. The general idea? Men negotiate harder that women, and therefore get more.

Linda Babcock, co-founder of Carnegie Mellon’s Academy for Women, agrees that men in general are better at negotiating, and that this negatively affects women. But rather than get rid of negotiation entirely, Babcock argues that women should embrace it.

In her books, “Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation and Positive Strategies for Change,” and “Ask For It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want,” Babcock discusses the challenges of negotiating and strategies women can use to ask for what they want in the workplace.

Linda Babcock, Carnegie Mellon University
Linda Babcock, Carnegie Mellon University

Babcock recently spoke to Diversity Executive about how women can use negotiation to advance in their careers. Below are edited excerpts from her interview.

Your book, “Women Don’t Ask,” discusses the high cost of avoiding negotiation. Why should women stop avoiding it?

There are many reasons. First of all, many things are negotiable in the workplace rather than just being offered to you — for example, raises, promotions, work assignments. To really get where you want to go in an organization today, you have to be proactive for yourself about asking for those things. Women are more likely to believe that employer will just treat them fairly and give them what they deserve, and men are more likely to understand that you actually have to negotiate for the things you want and for the career you want to have in the workplace. It can hold women back if they’re not getting the opportunities that men are asking for.

How can the ability to negotiate affect a woman’s career path?

For example, if she is interested in moving up in her organization, negotiating for the things she needs to make it to the next level — like different kinds of experiences, being assigned the right teams, the right projects, the work that she needs to do to prove herself to make it to the next level — that’s how negotiation can help by asking for those opportunities.

What are some strategies for women to negotiate better?

First of all to identify what you want and be proactive about asking for it. Once you know what you want, you need to research what’s reasonable to ask for. So let’s say that I want a higher salary. Identifying that that’s what I want and then finding out what is the salary that is the market price for a job like mine and identifying what that is and from there, planning a strategy once you know what it is that you should be asking for.

Why is it important for women to speak up and ask for what they want in the workplace?

It’s important because while employers would like to treat everyone fairly, they’re often focused on other kind of more pressing matters and so may not realize that the men that work for them are asking for these things that the women are not, and then that leaves the women behind. So women have to really understand that it’s their job to speak up for themselves, that we’d like it if our managers did this for us but it doesn’t always happen.

You also co-founded CMU’s Academy of Women. Why is the advancement of women a goal that’s important to you?

I just see women having so many valuable experiences and perspectives and training that they really don’t get to utilize, that organizations aren’t taking advantage of to their fullest. So we’re really leaving those voices behind and disadvantaging women. It’s about justice and fairness.