Negotiating worth


It is high time senior executives become more sensitised to the complexities of gender bias in negotiations says negotiation specialist, Derek Pead.

In April this year, now ex-interim chief executive of social network news site, Reddit, Ellen Pao, proposed a ban on all salary negotiations. Pao justified the move saying she was looking to bring an end to the gender bias when it came to salary negotiations.

“Pao’s move might have been based on sound motives, but we cannot take away a person’s right to secure the best possible future for themselves. What leaders need to do, however, is to be more aware of inherent social prejudices and make sure they are not falling into these traps,” comments Pead.

A number of studies conducted by Harvard Business School and others have shown that women are significantly less likely to negotiate for a better salary than their male counterparts – either when offered a new position, or when they are being assessed in their current jobs. According to a study, 57% of men will try negotiate a better salary, while only seven percent of women will attempt the same.

“Studies have shown that women are viewed negatively when they attempt to negotiate on their own behalf, however they are viewed more favourably when negotiating on behalf of others. We have been conditioned to respond well to a man who drives a hard bargain, and may even go so far as to see him as a strong leader, yet we tend to see women who attempt to gain more than what is on offer as being aggressive,” explains Pead.

“Unfortunately, it is not just a male gender bias towards women who negotiate for themselves. Studies show women responded just as negatively to other women who assert themselves in negotiations”

Pointing to the importance of negotiating a good salary, Pead says even a small difference in starting salary can make a big difference to the financial security of someone at retirement.

A study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior in the US found that a $5,000 raise to $55,000 annually in a first-job negotiation would result in an extra $600,000 earned over a 40-year career. This was calculated with a 5 percent yearly increase, and did not take into account the significant increases which would likely come through promotions or job moves.

In a country where women earn nearly a third less than men (according to the latest stats by SARS), Pead says it’s imperative that South African management become more sensitised to the need for women to be allowed to negotiate in their own favour.

“It’s a sad truth that while we are making progress towards a more equal society, women still face some tough challenges in the workplace. However, knowledge is power, and by understanding negotiation techniques and practicing them, women can not only take their rightful leadership positions, but do so at the salary they deserve,” Pead concludes.

Claire Adlam

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