It’s well known that women are at a disadvantage in business negotiations when compared to their male counterparts. Studies show that even when women “lean in” and push for raises and promotions,they’re not able to achieve the same resultsas men.
But a new research paper published by Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, and cited by the Harvard Business Review, suggests that this bias against women is so ingrained that it even extends to men with more feminine facial features like smaller noses, fuller lips, and less-prominent eyebrow ridges.
Cornell professors Eric Gladstone and Kathleen M. O’Connor conducted a study in which they told 304 participants to imagine they were about to engage in a business negotiation and showed them each two photos of people they were told were twins. The photos were in fact of the same person, either a man or a woman, but each had been manipulated to look either more masculine or more feminine.
The participants were then told to select from the two photos they were shown either a counterpart (someone to negotiate against) or an agent (someone to negotiate on their behalf).
Ultimately, both men and women held a clear preference to negotiate against the person with more feminine features (62% selected this option) and to be represented by the person with more masculine features (64.8% selected this option). This suggests that the subjects felt people with more feminine features would be more likely to give them what they wanted, while people with more masculine features were seen as being more competent negotiators.
Later, Gladstone and O’Connor asked a new batch of subjects to engage in a simulated negotiation, in which each participant was given a photo of a person they were told would be negotiating against them via a computer in another room. In actuality, the other end of the meeting was being simulated by a computer program.
When asked, the participants rated the photos of people with more feminine features as being more likely to be open to cooperating with them.
During the actual simulated negotiation, subjects made more aggressive offers when they thought they were negotiating with people who had feminine facial features, indicating that they intuitively saw them as more willing to compromise.
As a result, the subjects confirmed the professors’ hypothesis that simply having feminine facial features is enough to trigger the assumptions people make about women being more cooperative negotiators. And that could mean that men without more masculine features could wind up getting more stingy salary offers from their employers.
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