The gender wage gap might be partly explained by women opting into lower-paying professions, but when it comes to negotiating a raise in the career of your choice, a recent New York Times article seems to suggest, your biggest obstacle might be that your boss is a sexist jerk.
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“Discrimination persists in the workplace and it isn’t necessarily intentional or overt, experts on gender and negotiation say,” writes Tara Siegel Bernard, in an article entitled Moving Past Gender Barriers to Negotiate a Raise. “But it can emerge when women act in ways that aren’t considered sufficiently feminine, and when women advocate for themselves, these experts say, some people find it unseemly, if on a subconscious level.”
To overcome it, experts tell Bernard, women must take “a more calibrated approach,” balancing assertiveness with the need to be perceived as likeable. In other words, it’s your job, as a woman, to figure out ways to overcome your manager’s potential biases — ones he or she might not even be aware of having.
So what’s wrong with advising women to tailor their negotiation techniques? As Slate’s Amanda Hess puts it:
“The Times guide is the latest tract that tells women to overcome the double standards of the workplace by just trying harder (but also, softer). This form of feminist boot-strapping has previously been touted in Forbes, Lean In, and at universities across the country. The conventional wisdom is that it is the female employee’s responsibility to navigate the sexist demands of her office, because her employers have no incentive to make it any easier for her to get a raise.”
In other words, it might be practical to encourage women to change what they have control over — their own negotiating style — rather than what they don’t, but it’s also pretty frustrating to make overcoming oppression the job of the oppressed.
Perhaps the best thing men and women can do to make things better for women in the workplace is to keep these potential biases in mind when they’re managers, either today, or once they bootstrap their way up to middle management. (Presumably, through being as soft and feminine or manly and back-slapping as society apparently requires. Sigh.)
True gender equality in the workplace will require more than just different negotiating techniques. It will require self-awareness on the part of managers, and a commitment to treating the men and women who work for them as people, not stereotypes.
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