Why Women Don’t [Often] Negotiate and Why It Matters

Apr 2 2019

by Laura Mixon Camacho

Recently I hosted a webinar on the topic of top negotiating practices, in which I interviewed my friend and colleague, Peter Arnstein. Peter is a seasoned investment banker turned executive coach. READ MORE >>

For decades his daily job involved negotiations for the sale of companies and other assets; I negotiated formally for the first time in 2009, when I was offered a Visiting Assistant Professor position at the College of Charleston. Even though I was dealing with a state institution, I negotiated a higher starting salary and reimbursement for my move to Charleston. I’ve been obsessed with negotiating ever since!

If you’re the kind of person who automatically asks for a price cut, you don’t need to read this article, except to understand the mindset of those of us who just pay the price being asked without thinking about it.

Research shows women tend not to ask for additional compensation when they receive a job offer. We actually prefer to buy things, like cars, in places where we don’t have to negotiate. The last car I bought was purchased at Car Max, so that I would not have to haggle over the price.

Is there a conspiracy holding us back?

We see articles upon articles that claim we women were socialized not to negotiate. That may be true. But I think the root cause is not any conspiracy but a lack of training and awareness.

Think about it. You want a pair of fancy shoes and the price tag is $525. Would you seriously ask the Nordstrom’s sales person for a lower price … or would you simply wait until they went on sale?

Do you haggle the price of tuna when shopping at Harris Teeter? Probably you simply wait until there’s a nice BOGO offer.

For many of us, our first job was babysitting. The most normal thing in the world was to ask the going rate, $3 an hour when I started back in the Stone Age. I think it’s now $15 per hour. A babysitter with a car may get a bit more, a newbie 13-year-old sitter may ask for less. But we don’t think of negotiating for our babysitting gigs.

This view of prices in the world is part of what critics refer to as “social conditioning.”

As a young professional, I never asked for more money when I got job offers. Not because I was afraid to do so, it simply never crossed my mind. Now I know better.

Failure to negotiate impacts lifetime earnings.

We pay a high price for this reticence to negotiate. The failure to ask for more money for a job early in a career positions you for lower-paid jobs in the future.

Reluctance to negotiate can make a difference of millions of dollars over a career span. Just one tiny example is this. Let’s say Ashley and Arthur both graduated in 2018 with a degree in business analytics. Bob accepts the offered $50 K and Amanda asks for more, nailing a $56 K starting salary. With only one negotiation in her life, she will make $500,000 more than Arthur by the time she retires. If a person negotiates every time she changes job, on average every 7 years, the difference between negotiating and not negotiating will add up to several million dollars.

If you don’t routinely ask for things, you’re not getting practice in negotiating and not getting the best value available. If you don’t practice, you’re not getting better.

You have everything it takes to excel at negotiating.

Ironically, the best negotiators have strong empathy and women tend to be more empathetic than men. Women totally have what it takes to be excellent negotiators. [Forgive my gender-based generalizations, I know that not all women are strongly empathetic.]

Get started on the path to becoming a better negotiator:

  1. Seek out friends and colleagues whom you suspect are crackerjack negotiators. Ask them how they approach situations where the price is not set in stone.
  2. When you (or your friends and family) get a job offer, ask if there is any flexibility in the offer. That’s an easy way to start that conversation. (It helps if you’ve gotten clear on what you want and what you think you deserve BEFORE the conversation.)
  3. Practice asking for things. Just like you ask for salad dressing on the side or water with no ice, ask your dry cleaners for an earlier pick-up date. Ask for an upgrade at your next hotel stay. Ask for a cash discount. Ask, ask, ask.

It feels weird asking for something if you’re not used to it. But if you don’t ask, the answer is always “no.”

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Laura Mixon Camacho View More Blog Posts from this Author

Laura Mixon Camacho, PhD, is obsessed with communication as a tool for building bridges and careers. She believes all conversations should be carried out with style and imagination. And public speaking is just a special sort of conversation. Laura creates quirky communication workshops and she does private one-to-one coaching. She is the go-to coach if you want to improve your communication skills to move your business or career forward with more confidence, more impact and less stress. Read more at www.mixonian.com.

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