Perhaps the most straightforward and effective strategy for getting what you want is to simply ask for it — that is, unless you’re a woman.
Then things get more complicated.
As the common convention goes, women don’t get as many promotions as men because they don’t ask for them. But recent research by McKinsey & Co. and Lean In shows this to be patently untrue.
According to their latest Women in the Workplace study, which surveys 132 companies employing more than 4.6 million people, women negotiate for promotions and raises more often than men do, but they’re far less likely to receive them. For every 100 women promoted to the manager level, for example, the study found 130 men are promoted.
The hard truth is that, when women negotiate, people like them less for it.
According to the study, women who negotiate are 30% more likely than men who negotiate to receive feedback that they are “intimidating,” “too aggressive,” or “bossy” — and they are 67% more likely than women who don’t negotiate at all to receive the same negative feedback.
“The reason for this pushback lies in many of the unconscious assumptions we all hold about women and men,” Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook and the founder of Lean In, writes for The Wall Street Journal. She continues:
“We expect men to be assertive, look out for themselves, and lobby for more — so there’s little downside when they do it. But women must be communal and collaborative, nurturing and giving, focused on the team and not themselves, lest they be viewed as self-absorbed. So when a woman advocates for herself, people often see her unfavorably.”
Sandberg and her team of researchers aren’t the only ones to observe this trend.
According to research conducted by NYU psychology professor Madeline Heilman, women’s career advancements are often impeded by two kinds of gender stereotypes:
- Descriptive stereotypes attribute certain characteristics to women, like “caring,” “warm,” “modest,” and “emotional.” This creates problems, Heilman says, when there’s a disconnect between what women are perceived to be like and what attributes are necessary to successfully perform in male gender-typed roles.
- Prescriptive gender stereotypes designate what women and men should be like. With this kind of stereotyping, women are disapproved of and punished socially when they directly or seemingly violate the prescribed ways they should act.
Numerous studies have shown the disturbing role prescriptive gender stereotypes play in the workplace.
Another study conducted by Heilman showed that successful women working in “male domains” are penalised when they are perceived to be less nurturing or sensitive, since they violate gender-stereotypical prescriptions.
Women who violate prescriptions of modesty by promoting themselves at work were found to be less hireable in a Rutgers University study — and a study conducted by Harvard’s Hannah Riley Bowles showed women were penalised by evaluators more often than men for initiating negotiations, thus violating the prescription that women be passive.
After analysing more than 248 performance reviews, Kieran Snyder wrote in Fortune, “negative personality criticism — watch your tone! step back! stop being so judgmental! — shows up twice in the 83 critical reviews received by men. It shows up in 71 of the 94 critical reviews received by women.”
Women’s reviews included gems like, “You can come across as abrasive sometimes. I know you don’t mean to, but you need to pay attention to your tone,” and, “You would have had an easier time if you had been less judgmental about R — ‘s contributions from the beginning.”
Sandberg’s advice isn’t that women should stop asking for what they want — the study also found that women who lobby for a promotion are 54% more likely to report getting it than women who don’t.
Instead, it’s up to employers to step up and rethink how they hand out those raises and promotions.
“There are steps that companies can take right now, starting with measuring progress,” Sandberg writes. “Although most companies track the gender breakdown of their hiring and promotions, fewer than 35% set targets — and it’s harder to make progress when you don’t have clear goals in place.”
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