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Women: To Get a Raise, Try Harder, But Also Softer (Never Mind, Just Be a Man)

Topics: Negotiation

The gender wage gap might be partly explained by women opting into lower-paying professions, but when it comes to negotiating a raise in the career of your choice, a recent New York Times article seems to suggest, your biggest obstacle might be that your boss is a sexist jerk.

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(Photo Credit: Jason Pratt/Flickr)

“Discrimination persists in the workplace and it isn’t necessarily intentional or overt, experts on gender and negotiation say,” writes Tara Siegel Bernard, in an article entitled Moving Past Gender Barriers to Negotiate a Raise. “But it can emerge when women act in ways that aren’t considered sufficiently feminine, and when women advocate for themselves, these experts say, some people find it unseemly, if on a subconscious level.”

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To overcome it, experts tell Bernard, women must take “a more calibrated approach,” balancing assertiveness with the need to be perceived as likeable. In other words, it’s your job, as a woman, to figure out ways to overcome your manager’s potential biases — ones he or she might not even be aware of having.

So what’s wrong with advising women to tailor their negotiation techniques? As Slate’s Amanda Hess puts it:

“The Times guide is the latest tract that tells women to overcome the double standards of the workplace by just trying harder (but also, softer). This form of feminist boot-strapping has previously been touted in Forbes, Lean In, and at universities across the country. The conventional wisdom is that it is the female employee’s responsibility to navigate the sexist demands of her office, because her employers have no incentive to make it any easier for her to get a raise.”

In other words, it might be practical to encourage women to change what they have control over — their own negotiating style — rather than what they don’t, but it’s also pretty frustrating to make overcoming oppression the job of the oppressed.

Perhaps the best thing men and women can do to make things better for women in the workplace is to keep these potential biases in mind when they’re managers, either today, or once they bootstrap their way up to middle management. (Presumably, through being as soft and feminine or manly and back-slapping as society apparently requires. Sigh.)

True gender equality in the workplace will require more than just different negotiating techniques. It will require self-awareness on the part of managers, and a commitment to treating the men and women who work for them as people, not stereotypes.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think the gender wage gap is due to institutional sexism? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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allieJeff S Recent comment authors
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I’ve been working for 12 years for a privately-owned company.  When I took the job, I was not aware that it was run by the “good ol’ boys club.”  Working in that type of environment is destructive.  Here is what I call a minor incident, comparatively speaking:  we had a secretary who seemed to have a decent with our boss, and each week they’d have a little discussion about “Dancing with the Stars.”  I thought it was nice they had something to talk about.  But, true… Read more »

Jeff S
Jeff S

Follow up to my previous post.  BTW I am not some woman hater either.  One of the conversations was me trying to get a woman to not leave her current role to a lesser role (that paid less).  I liked her experience and professionalism.  I really valued her.  She did change roles.  Just wanted to mention that before folks disregard me as non-relevant.  

Judge people by their actions.

Jeff S
Jeff S

I really am very sick of the divisions in this country.  Black vs White.  Poor vs Rich.  Now we are restarting the gender wars.  Just great.  Just what America needs. Before this site engages is the us vs them garbage that our president is spewing, read articles like this: Please do not turn this site into a PR arm for the DC crowd that is bent on being divisive and trying to stick their noses into everything. Just recently… Read more »

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