Social Cost of Negotiating

I was doing some research on salary negotiations recently. I learned about the social cost of negotiating for women. I knew the concept in the back of my mind but didn’t know it’s name. The concept is one where, when a woman negotiates, she has a social cost to her reputation.
A few years ago, I was hiring an HR business partner for one of my teams. We found the perfect candidate and the recruiter was very excited to “close her.” He had tried to understand her salary requirements during the process and she put him off. He wasn’t too concerned. He thought she might want a sign-on bonus since she was leaving money on the table from her previous company. When he called to make the offer to the candidate, she had different expectations. She wanted a higher base, more options, and that sign-on bonus. The recruiter was completely flummoxed.
He called me and shared that he worried she might be a difficult employee. I listened as he shared that he had put the offer together himself and knew it was fair for her. He didn’t understand why she would negotiate. He knew the market in the city where she would be working. He admitted it was rather hot for HR folks at the moment but, she should be happy with what we were offering. He also shared he didn’t think I should add her to the team since she only seemed to care about herself (his words not mine). He wondered if we should move forward with her. He didn’t think we should negotiate.
After a few minutes of me listening to him, he finally ran out of steam. My only question back to him was, “Would you feel the same way about her negotiating if she was a he?”
As a society, we have grow up knowing that women should just be happy to be a part of the workforce. If we add women of color, that feeling grows. In my last post I shared salary negotiation tips for women. While writing it, I remembered this scenario, which was like my own experiences. The social cost of negotiating is real and it leads to people thinking woman will be difficult to work with. In the worst case, the women aren’t hired. And if you think I am making this up, please refer you to exhibit A. To be clear, it isn’t just men with this bias towards women. From the research you see that women are just as likely to show bias towards women who negotiate.
This bias shows up when women are in salary negotiations for a promotion. Managers have asked me to get women to agree to the promotion before we discuss salary many times. Umm… no. This isn’t Let’s Make a Deal where if she picks the wrong door she gets a zonk.
How do we fix it? First, we must acknowledge the bias we have. All of us. Having awareness of our biases doesn’t make them go away but it will make us think twice about how we feel on an issue.
Second, we need to ask ourselves a simple question. It’s the one I asked the recruiter. Would you feel the same way about the issue if it was coming from someone of the opposite sex? If you answer no, think about how you can change your mindset on the issue.
And third, be smart. We need to consider the candidate experience. How do we want the candidate to feel about the organization? And remember, a woman who can negotiate is a great addition to any culture.
Don’t let your culture be one where women have a social cost of negotiation. Build a culture of inclusion.