Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide

Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide

Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide

Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide


When Linda Babcock asked why so many male graduate students were teaching their own courses and most female students were assigned as assistants, her dean said: "More men ask. The women just don't ask." It turns out that whether they want higher salaries or more help at home, women often find it hard to ask. Sometimes they don't know that change is possible--they don't know that they can ask. Sometimes they fear that asking may damage a relationship. And sometimes they don't ask because they've learned that society can react badly to women asserting their own needs and desires.

By looking at the barriers holding women back and the social forces constraining them, Women Don't Ask shows women how to reframe their interactions and more accurately evaluate their opportunities. It teaches them how to ask for what they want in ways that feel comfortable and possible, taking into account the impact of asking on their relationships. And it teaches all of us how to recognize the ways in which our institutions, child-rearing practices, and unspoken assumptions perpetuate inequalities--inequalities that are not only fundamentally unfair but also inefficient and economically unsound.

With women's progress toward full economic and social equality stalled, women's lives becoming increasingly complex, and the structures of businesses changing, the ability to negotiate is no longer a luxury but a necessity. Drawing on research in psychology, sociology, economics, and organizational behavior as well as dozens of interviews with men and women from all walks of life, Women Don't Ask is the first book to identify the dramatic difference between men and women in their propensity to negotiate for what they want. It tells women how to ask, and why they should.


Women don't ask. They don't ask for raises and promotions and better job opportunities. They don't ask for recognition for the good work they do. They don't ask for more help at home. In other words, women are much less likely than men to use negotiation to get what they want. Why does this matter? Although negotiation has always been an important workplace skill, it has long been thought to be the province of men: a competitive realm in which men excelled and women felt less capable. But ideas about what make a successful negotiation have changed in recent years. Rather than a battle between adversaries, negotiation has increasingly been seen as, ideally, a collaborative process aimed at finding the best solutions for everyone involved. This not only makes the process of negotiating less combative, it has been shown to produce superior agreements: Everyone walks away with more of what he or she wants.

This change in attitudes makes negotiation more attractive to women, because many women have disliked the competitive nature of much negotiation. In addition, people often react negatively to women behaving in competitive ways, making negotiation a less effective strategy for women to get what they want. The new understanding of negotiation as a collaborative process has eased this problem.

But why do women need to negotiate more now than before—and why is it good news that women can begin to discover their strength as negotiators? Recent changes in workplace culture are making it essential for women to exercise far more control over their careers than in the past. The rise of Internet-based commerce, especially the boom in online auction and trading sites, has created a whole new realm for buying, selling, and doing business—further changing the landscape in which women live and work. At the same time, ongoing changes in the roles women play at home force them to manage a clamor of conflicting com-

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