What makes negotiations challenging for women?

What are the most frequent instances of negotiation in the workplace that you can think of? Besides pay and promotions, that is. Those are the big ones. But,  a recent study found that women need to navigate three major buckets of negotiations regularly:

  • Work resources. To plan a new position within the organization, restructure their team, change reporting lines, or extend a handover period.
  • Learning. To attend conferences, reduce workdays to study, or become involved in higher-level executive meetings.
  • Work-life balance. To adjust work timings, restructure a position to fit their family needs or return to work after maternity leave.

Some roadblocks make these negotiations a battlefield. Here’s what they are:

  • Fear of backlash. When it comes to advocating for their growth and their needs, women in the study mentioned above, reported a strong lack of confidence. Even to just state their needs. Why? They were afraid of becoming unpopular. It might seem dramatic, but it does hurt to ask. Research shows that women who initiate negotiations do come across as pushy, unlikeable, and undesirable team members, and most of us have discomfort in creating this impression. The gender differences here are real.
  • Experiencing strong emotions. Given that negotiations hurt the reputation of female employees, they experience a whole range of emotions during the process. Right from anger, withdrawal, sadness, anxiety, reluctance, to worry. There is an expectation that it would end poorly. And managing this while negotiating is a double whammy. Moreover, a failed negotiation amplifies these emotions, preventing women from renegotiation. 
  • Interpersonal friction. A usual dynamic seen in negotiations is questioning the competence and undermining the ask. It tests the negotiating abilities of the individual and increases the resistance to the ask. If everyone experiences this, why is it a problem? Because studies show that women face a higher degree of resistance. They report managers missing a scheduled negotiation, showing surprise at an ask, or being volatile in order to create uncertainty. Such interactions were seen as aggressive and discouraging.

Negotiation is an essential element of our work lives and a key path to our growth. These challenges demonstrate how different genders experience negotiations differently. But, the problems are not everlasting. There are ways to counter them. Come back for our next post to know how.

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