Closing the gender gap: How we can prepare our daughters for the negotiation backlas

posted on July 23, 2015

By Kristene Quan, Globe and Mail | 

By Kristene Quan, Globe and Mail | 

Before Sheryl Sandberg became Facebook’s chief operating officer, she had to agree to the terms of her contract, including compensation. Facebook’s founder and chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, had made an offer, which Sandberg, then vice-president of Google, thought was fair. They had been discussing Facebook’s mission and Zuckerberg’s vision for the future, and as Sandberg describes in her 2013 book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, “I was dying to accept the job.”

She had no intention of negotiating a higher salary.

“I was afraid of doing anything that might botch the deal,” Sandberg writes. “Was it worth it when I knew that ultimately I was going to accept the offer? I concluded it was not.”

But both Sandberg’s husband and her brother-in law told her to negotiate. Her brother-in-law asked her: “Why are you going to make less than any man would make to do the same job?”

She realized, “No man at my level would consider taking the first offer.”

Sandberg then “negotiated hard” and got a better offer.

Her reticence to negotiate is not uncommon. It’s well known that women, fearful of being labelled barracudas or bitches, are overwhelmingly less likely than men to bargain for a better salary (though they will negotiate over the “softer” issues of flex time, vacation and working hours). As a result, starting salaries in the private sector tend to be slightly higher for men than women, and then stay that way – creating a wage gap right out of the gate.

The repercussions are long-term, not only in terms of earning power and financial independence, but also when it comes to reinforcing gender stereotypes at home. When Canadians struggling with the high costs of child care (which costs as much $1,394 a month for an infant in St. John’s, for example) decide one spouse will stay home, generally it’s the lower-income partner who leaves the work force. While there are exceptions and other motives that factor into these decisions, we know who the lower-earning spouse usually is.

How is it, then, that men are willing to negotiate, but women know intuitively what social-science research has borne out: that to do so is to risk being considered aggressive and greedy. Is it something about the way boys play, the way they trade hockey or Pokemon cards and then later build teams within salary cap allowances on NHL 2015? Or is it more about how girls are expected to “play nice,” to think and care about others and keep the peace?

Though research into women and the negotiation backlash is fairly new, experts know that socialized norms of expected behaviour are formed early on in a child’s development.

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