Tanna Bogursky and Todd Wiesel via WIN Summit
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“Women don’t ask.”

Whether that “ask” is for a pay raise, promotion, or more flexibility at work, this is what women are so often told, and perhaps even more often what they tell themselves. Gender bias is a major issue in the workplace, and it’s one that persists and continues to thwart equality. Yet unconscious self-bias also plays a large role in holding women back.

Now, let’s take another look at the statement that women “don’t ask.” Why don’t they ask? If they started to, would it make a difference? A 2016 Ellevate Network survey of professional women reported that of the 1,108 women surveyed, 63 percent of them reported that they had never asked for a raise. The survey also found, however, that of the 25 percent of women who said that they did ask, 75 percent of them received a raise.

So, the question comes down to, why don’t women ask? In her book “Women Don’t Ask,” WIN Summit speaker Sara Laschever claims that women tend to have a low sense of personal entitlement, which deters them from asking for more than they already have. This is an example of unconscious self-bias. Men tend to have a higher sense of entitlement and will continually ask for more, not because they deserve more than women, but just because they often feel more comfortable asking, regardless of the outcome.

A striking illustration of this bias comes from a study conducted by Laschever and her co-author Linda Babcock. It is succinctly described in a recent Forbes article:

Participants were told they’d be paid between between $3 and $10 for playing the game Boggle (a word search game). Once they completed several rounds of the game, the participants were given $3 by the experimenter, and told ‘Here’s $3. Is $3 okay?’ If they directly asked for more money, they were paid $10. However, if they merely complained about their pay, they were not paid more. Male and female participants thought they did equally well playing Boggle, so there was no gender differences in perceptions of their performance. Perhaps not surprisingly, men and women were equally likely to complain about only receiving $3 for their time. However, men were nine times more likely than the women to directly ask the experimenter for more money.”  

In this case, all the participants had to do was simply ask for more money. They didn’t need to give any reasons, explanations, or use any negotiation tactics. However, the women still shied away from asking. They likely did not know what they would have to do to receive the money, and rather than enter into an unknown situation, they accepted the lower amount. They did not see themselves as entitled to the larger amount.

So, what can we do to help women combat the unconscious self-bias? According to Margaret A. Neale, Stanford Professor of Negotiation, one reason women don’t ask is because they don’t properly prepare. It is already scary enough to walk into a superior’s office to ask for a higher salary, better hours, or some other benefit, but imagine attempting that conversation without any preparation.

WIN Summit is committed to educating women in the art of negotiation. We strongly believe that by increasing women's’ preparedness for negotiations, we can work to combat the unconscious self-bias. In turn, we are doing our part to fight for gender equality in the workplace.

If you are looking to improve your negotiation skills, we invite you to join us on August 8, 2017 at Madison Square Garden in NYC for A Night of Negotiation, featuring WIN Summit speaker and Columbia Professor Dr. Beth Fisher Yoshida. Following a short negotiation seminar, there will be networking and food, which will culminate in watching the New York Liberty play the Indiana Fever. Buy your tickets here!

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Tanna Bogursky and Todd Wiesel oversee communication and business development at The Negotiation Instititue / the WIN Summit, which is a unique professional development conference tailored to help women advance in their careers through harnessing the power of negotiation.