Let’s start with the obvious — it pains me to realize that negotiation can’t fix everything. As someone who loves to teach negotiation — and has long believed in the power of positive asking — I also need to recognize when individual action will not — and cannot — fix the ingrained biases and structural sexism that exists in the workplace. A slew of recent studies back up this point in variety of ways that also point to a more nuanced understanding of what does need to be fixed.
To give a little history — many read Lean In and/or Women Don’t Ask and took these books as a call to focus on women’s deficiencies in negotiation. This was despite that the fact that I and others had found no differences in perceived assertiveness among lawyers or other leaders. (More from me in TEDx talk version here and research article here.)
Caveat — this is not to deny that differences in levels of assertiveness are found among young women in competitive, one-shot negotiations with limited knowledge, nor to discount the fact that failure to negotiate a higher starting salary leads to less money down the road. It IS to say that these younger, less confident women should not be the template for advice to mature women in the workplace. Numerous workplace studies have since confirmed that women and men ask for raises and promotions at the same rate — the problem is who receives them.
Moreover, study after study in Harvard Business Review have now shown that women are perceived as better leaders by their peers in 360 degree reviews — scoring higher than men on 17 of 19 measures before the pandemic and — in the face of a crisis — outperforming men even more.