By Belén Sánchez
In 2016, the World Economic Forum predicted that it will take 118 years before women have the same career prospects as men. Some of the characteristics of the gender gap that persist within our economies are wage inequality and the low participation of women on governing boards of organizations. In 2015, Deloitte – Ecuador made a study analyzing the top 100 companies in the country. The results showed that only 3% of company Presidents were female , 8% were Vice-Presidents and 13% were general managers. Additionally, a previous study reported a wage gap between men and women at leadership positions of 15%. Policy makers, academics and the media suggest that women could reduce the gender gap by more effectively negotiating their compensation. However, a woman faces several barriers the moment she sits at the negotiation table. In order to help women on this endeavor, I analyze here three barriers we face as women and some strategies to address them.
Gender Stereotypes. Men and women bring different gender stereotypes to a negotiating table. These stereotypes shape the qualities and behaviors that we believe men and women should have. For instance, men are perceived as assertive, dominant, decisive and self- oriented; whereas women are thought of as warm, expressive, nurturing, emotional friendly and more oriented towards the welfare of others. Since these masculine characteristics are often associated with a good negotiator, men tend to be perceived as more effective negotiators than women. However, based on personal experiences and the experience of female peers in Ecuador, other factors like lower level of initial salaries for women and higher commissions for men contribute to these differences between both genders, as well.
At the beginning of my professional career, gender stereotypes consistently represented an invisible wall in front of any attempt to negotiate a salary increase. Female mentors shared with me tactics that could be implemented in order to overcome the challenge of preconceived gender roles. One of them was to find market information to adequately value my professional skills. Furthermore, according to Riley & Babcock (2012), women need to better frame their contributions to the organization in a measurable way in order to sit down at the negotiating table with clear parameters of what she deserves. Also, women should avoid using phrases such as “I’m sorry” and “I feel” during wage negotiations as a way to avoid reaffirmation of the stereotype that women do not assertively ask for things.
Another barrier that many of us have faced is the Stereotype Threat. This threat, named by Claude Steele, describes the concern and anxiety experienced by individuals when they are in a situation that may confirm a negative stereotype about a group to which they belong. This concern might distract the person affected from the goals he or she is pursuing and can eventually affect the performance; leading to the confirmation of the negative stereotype.
To avoid falling into this threat, a woman can assess her own biases before going into a negotiation. This means mapping the potential negative biases that she has which might backfire during the negotiation process. Also, she can identify the positive aspects of the stereotype in order to be able to use it in her favor. For instance, the nurturing and more friendly perception of women can be used in order to pursue the closure of cooperative agreements where value is created for both parties.
Finally, another barrier that we fail to recognize is the Shadow Negotiation. The shadow negotiation is characterized by a more subtle and non-verbal discussion that masks whose interests and needs command attention, whose opinions matter, and how cooperative the parties are going to be in reaching the agreement. By ignoring the Shadow Negotiation we tend to focus the discussions on one single level and on one single issue. According to Kolb & Williams (2000), we need to be aware that as women we bring our differences and our competencies into the shadow negotiation as well. Both aspects can work to our advantage but only if they are recognized as valuable by us and by our counterparts.
To confront the shadow negotiation a woman needs to be able to advocate for her own interests. Clearly identifying her demands and their legitimacy can help her to stay on message and self-promote herself and her ideas. Also, a woman needs to remember the importance of relationship-building to envision creative solutions for the problems. Building relationships with the different stakeholders involved in a negotiation can help us to gather their perspectives, understand their concerns and discuss the biases that might be affecting our decisions.
Many women have tried to take gender out of the equation and focus on their skills and talents to get a better compensation or to increase their participation at top leadership positions. However, denying the existence of gender bias can represent a liability for women, whereas recognizing them can be the first to allowing them to identify and design creative strategies to get better deals that will allow them to move up in the ladder.
It is also valuable to acknowledge that gender bias affect organizational policies; and therefore, women need to envision ways to cooperate with men in order to level the playing field at that organizational level as well. Policies for hiring, compensation and advancement can be seriously affected by gender bias and they can keep preventing women from having the same career prospects as men if not changed.
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