February 25, 2013 Practice Points

To Negotiate Higher Pay, Focus on the Organization

By Suzanne L. Jones

According to a review of the literature conducted by authors of a recent research report, women negotiating for a higher salary may face accompanying social backlash. In multiple studies, they report, women who ask for more money may be perceived as “less nice and more demanding than women who let the opportunity to negotiate pass.” Women may opt not to ask out of fear of alienating those who might help them advance in the long run.

To find a solution to the gender pay gap in salary negotiations, study authors Hannah Riley Bowles of Harvard University and Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon University conducted research aimed at exploring how women can improve their negotiations. Their studyHow Can Women Escape the Compensation Negotiation Dilemma? Relational Accounts Are One Answer (Psychology of Women Quarterly, August 24, 2012), starts with the hypothesis that if women combine negotiating in a manner that fulfills the feminine stereotype with their negotiation requests, both negotiation and social outcomes will improve.

The authors put together two studies in which an employee attempted to negotiate higher pay after being promoted to a new management position. The studies used scripted videos showing an employee being interviewed by a company representative. Two white men and two white women were hired to enact four negotiation scripts:

1. The simple-negotiation where candidates asked for a higher salary and bonus

2. The relational script where candidates asked for a higher salary and bonus but also expressed concern for organizational relationships

3. The outside-offer-account where candidates asked for a higher salary and bonus but also explained they had an outside offer for more salary plus bonus

4. The joint relational-script-plus account, which combined the relational and outside offer account scripts

Study 1 showed that when women expressed concern over relationships with others during salary negotiations, evaluators felt “significantly more willing to work with” negotiators compared with negotiators who employed the “simple negotiation.” The study also showed that when women offered a legitimate account for higher compensation such as an outside offer, evaluators were more willing to grant the compensation request. However, neither strategy, independently or together, did anything to improve both the negotiation for higher pay and the social outcome for women after such negotiations. When women combined a concern for organizational relationships with a legitimate outside offer, the study showed that the relational script did nothing to improve the social stigma of negotiating for a higher salary.

Study 2 tested the hypothesis that using relational accounts would improve both the social and negotiation outcomes. Study 2 employed two scripts devised to improve female negotiators’ social and negotiation outcomes by explaining why a compensation request is legitimate in “relational terms.” The “supervisor-excuse” script presented the logic that the candidate’s supervisor––and not the candidate––should be “blamed” for the salary request. In other words, the candidate’s “team leader” told her to ask about her compensation in the interview. The “skill-contribution” script presented an ideological basis or justification for the negotiation intended to fulfill the feminine stereotype of “see me as a positive contributor, not a selfish demander.” The results of study 2 showed that evaluators were more willing to grant the female negotiator’s compensation request if they used relational accounts “because their requests were perceived to be significantly more legitimate” while making the women appear more relational.

In conclusion, the study suggests that women can improve their negotiation outcomes if they “legitimize their requests in a manner that also communicates their concern for organizational relationships.”

Keywords: woman advocate, career, pay, negotiation, inequity


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