Negotiation Techniques in Salary: Men and Women

Negotiation techniques in salary vary from person to person, but a recent article in the Washington Post focused on the marked differences between men and women.  In evaluating salary negotiation differences, the post recalls an incident ten years ago, when a group of female graduate students at Carnegie Mellon University filed a complaint with Linda C. Babcock, a professor of economics.

The female students complained that male students (in the PhD) program were teaching classes on their own, but the females were relegated to the role of teaching assistants. This was (and is) a big deal, because students who taught their own classes gained valuable experience. Babcock looked into it, and subsequently found that males had asked to teach classes, whereas females had not. This prompted Babcock to begin evaluating salary negotiation differences between the sexes.

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Solution for Negotiation about Salary?

A decade ago, Professor Babcock had 153 student volunteers play Boggle, a popular word game. The students were told they’d be paid from $3 to $10, but that the pay was negotiable. After playing, all the students were initially paid $3. The negotiation results? 58 percent of the women asked for a higher amount, compared to 83 percent of the men.

In another study, Professor Babcock asked graduating master’s degree students, with job offers, if they had accepted the salary offer, or tried to negotiate. 51 percent of the men negotiated for a higher salary, while only 12.5 percent of the women haggled for more. The explanation, back then, was that men are just naturally more aggressive than women; thus females needed to be more assertive.

Salary and Job Negotiation: 2007

Flash-forward to the present. In a recent study by Professor Babcock, Hannah Riley Bowles (Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government) and Carnegie Mellon researcher Lei Lai, found that men and women get very different responses when they negotiate for larger salaries. This study found that both men and women were more likely to penalize women who asked for a larger salary; the perception being that women who asked for more were “less nice.”

In another part of this study, actors recorded videos of themselves asking for more money or accepting salaries. A new group of 285 volunteers were asked if they would be willing to work with the video-taped candidates. Men tended to rule against women who negotiated for larger salaries, but they were less likely to penalize men for doing the same. Women tended to penalize both men and women who negotiated for higher salaries.

Types of Salary Negotiation

In the final part of the study, 367 volunteers played the role of applicants left to decide on their own whether to negotiate for a higher salary. Fewer women (than men) negotiated for higher salaries if they thought they would be dealing with a man, but there was no significant difference between male and female applicants if they thought a woman would be making the decision. Applicants were accurately reading how males and females were likely to perceive them.

Researcher Hannah Riley Bowles summed the findings up for the Washington Post, “This isn’t about fixing the women. It isn’t about telling women, ‘You need self-confidence or training.’ They are responding to incentives within the social environment… you have to weigh that against social risks of negotiating. What we show is those risks are higher for women than for men.”

Should you negotiate your salary? As the book “Getting to Yes” argues, using to neutral third party evidence is a great way to make negotiations less confrontational. This approach may help women be perceived more favorably when they negotiate, even in the face of the sexism of the hiring manager. is a great neutral third party for salary negotiations. The PayScale Salary Calculator is a quick and easy way to compare positions. When you want powerful salary data and comparisons customized for your exact position, be sure to build a complete profile by taking PayScale’s full salary survey.


Dr. Al Lee