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Gender Differences in Negotiation
Julia B. Bear & Linda Babcock
Editors’ Note: By now, it’s widely discussed that men and women tend to negotiate differently. But what does this mean in practice? Are women always disadvantaged? And what can be done to improve the gender gaps typically seen in negotiation outcomes? The authors review decades of experimental research and make a series of recommendations—both for individuals, and for organizations which increasingly see it as in their own interest to ensure fair handling of employee and other negotiations.
There has been a great deal of research on gender differences in negotiation outcomes during the past thirty years. On average, women tend to underperform in competitive negotiations compared to men, though the results vary across different situations. This research has tremendous practical importance given the long-standing wage-gap and vertical segregation between men and women at work (Catalyst 2014), with gender differences in negotiation being one way to explain this gender inequality.
This chapter will summarize what the research has found, describe evidence-based recommendations to close the gaps, and propose what organizations can do to create more equality in outcomes for men and women. The research that we review in this chapter concerns negotiations at work and primarily is based on experimental methods that simulate negotiations comparable to those conducted in organizations, such as a buyer and seller negotiating a financial deal, or negotiating for a higher salary for oneself.
In the first section, we review research findings concerning gender differences in negotiations, as well as make recommendations based on this research. In the second section, we discuss what organizations can do to reduce gender differences in negotiation or to mitigate the impact of those differences. In sum, we take stock of what research has taught us over the past several decades, with an eye towards practical implications from both individual and organizational perspectives.
Overview of Research Findings
Researchers have studied gender differences in a variety of important negotiation outcomes, including negotiation performance (Stevens, Bavetta and Gist 1993; Kray, Thompson and Galinsky 2001; Kray, Galinsky and Thompson 2002; Bowles, Babcock and McGinn 2005; Amanatullah and Morris 2010; Bear and Babcock 2012), the propensity to initiate negotiations (Babcock et al. 2006; Small et al. 2007; Greig 2008), the propensity to avoid engaging in negotiations (Bear 2011), feelings about negotiating (Small et al. 2007; Kray and Gelfand 2009; Bear 2011), and how negotiators are judged by others (Bowles, Babcock and Lai 2007; Amanatullah and Morris 2010; Amanatullah and Tinsley 2013). Furthermore, a great deal of the research conducted in the past 10-15 years has explored what types of circumstances amplify or attenuate gender differences in negotiation outcomes (Kray et al. 2001; Kray et al. 2002; Bowles et al. 2005; Amanatullah and Morris 2010; Bear and Babcock 2012; Al Dabbagh, Bowles and Thomason 2016; for reviews, see Stuhlmacher and Walters 1999; Kray and Thompson 2004; Kray and Babcock 2006; Stuhlmacher and Linaberry 2013; Mazei et al. 2014). This research has shown that the gender gap favoring men is mitigated or eliminated under the following circumstances: less uncertainty about how much is available in the negotiation, negotiating for others, feminine topics, situations in which gender stereotypes are salient, and situations in which men and women are of equal status.
When information about how much is available to be negotiated is well-defined (for example, how high one’s compensation might be), gender differences disappear (Bowles et al. 2005; Kray and Gelfand 2009), since uncertainty may dampen women’s expectations more than men’s. In contrast, when there is a great deal of uncertainty about how much could be negotiated, women’s outcomes are less favorable than men’s outcomes and gender differences emerge.
Likewise, when negotiating on behalf of others, men and women perform equally well, whereas men tend to negotiate better outcomes...
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