Are female negotiators penalized for asserting too much? Our experiences and past research seem to indicate yes. However, for women to be perceived as competent they must be able to act agentically (in a self-focused manner), despite the fact that studies show that agentic women are routinely penalized and seen as socially unlikable. As a result, women are less likely to engage in assertive negotiation behavior because they fear negative judgments.
Recent research suggests a way out of this likability vs. competence dilemma for women: frame a negotiation in terms of benefits to others. In their study, Amanatullah and Tinsley found that assertive female negotiators who self-advocate (i.e. negotiate salary for self) incur social backlash because they violate gender norms and are seen as “too masculine.” However, when negotiating on behalf of another (i.e. negotiating salary for the new hire that they referred), assertive female negotiators avoid social backlash. This is because the female negotiator’s assertive behavior is seen as conforming to gendered expectations to help others and subsequently is not viewed as a role violation to be punished. Furthermore, the study found that other-advocating women were punished for not negotiating more assertively. According to the study, self-advocating females were associated with negative masculine characterizations, such as arrogance and domination, whereas non-assertive, other-advocating females drew negative feminine characterizations, such as weak and naive.
Such findings suggest women may accept lower salaries than men not because they are less motivated, but because they feel constrained by expectations dictated by the gender roles in society. However, in some cases, female gender role expectations align with assertive negotiation tactics and hence, it may be possible for women to reframe salary negotiations into an other-oriented, collective-focused exchange in order to avoid social backlash.
Amanatullah, E.T. & Tinsley, C.H. (2013). Punishing female negotiators for asserting too much…or not enough: Exploring why advocacy moderates backlash against assertive female negotiators. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 120, 110–122.