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Act Like A Woman...Ask Like A Man

Back in 2012, the actress Jennifer Lawrence - playing the lead in the first ‘Hunger Games’ film - failed to negotiate hard on the contract because she didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled’. Then, seeing the huge pay differential between herself and male colleagues, she realised that they hadn’t worried about being difficult or spoiled, and renegotiated a massive pay rise to achieve equal pay for the sequels.

We are biased to expect women to be collaborative, agreeable and communal. Research shows that women who negotiate for better compensation packages are outside the norms and when we find women outside of these norms - we do not want to work with them. People prefer female employees that ‘don’t ask’. Experiments have shown that ‘asking’ penalised women in a way that did not penalise men.

But negotiating matters and has long term implications. Men’s starting salaries are typically 8% higher than women’s, and men are more likely to apply for jobs with ambiguous information about wages where they can negotiate. On the other hand, women are more likely to negotiate if the wording invites them to do so - otherwise, they don't.

Those who are prepared to negotiate advance more quickly in an organisation than those who don’t - which is often unrelated to their performance - so not always the best performer gets promoted.

If you struggle with negotiations, explore the transparency of exactly what is negotiable and if necessary, invite people to negotiate on your behalf. Alternatively, a good technique is to replace the ‘I’ with ‘we’, to make it seem more in line with communal values, thereby falling in line with general practices. - e.g ‘During a training programme, my team leader told me to talk to you about compensation, since we are not sure whether this represents the top of the pay scale’.

Much is being made of the paltry amounts of VC funding (<2.5%) being directed towards female-led start-ups in the last few years.

The reasons are many and nuanced, but includes the biases listed above, and during pandemic-driven uncertainty, investors want to deal with founders demonstrating more audacious, brazen, start-up attitudes. So, whilst women may risk being penalized for ‘asking’, we all know that ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’, and if we stay quiet, nothing will change.

What negotiating tactics do you use?


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