Compensation negotiation among women in the workplace

How can Women Escape the Compensation Negotiation Dilemma: Relational Accounts are One Answer

From Psychology of Women Quarterly

Studies have shown that women are less likely to take the most direct approach to ensure that they receive fair pay compared to their male counterparts – simply asking. So what happens when women begin to negotiate for higher salaries? Could women begin to close the gender pay gap simply by learning to negotiate for more money? This study finds that women can successfully negotiate higher salaries, but unlike men, they have to pay attention to the approach they use in order to avoid social backlash. In part one of the study participants were surveyed and asked to watch a video in which a recently-promoted female employee negotiated her new salary. They were then asked to answer a series of questions about whether they would enjoy working with the woman and whether or not they would grant her the salary she desired. In part two of their study, the researchers surveyed college-educated Americans with work experience. The participants were asked to view short episodes in which female employees negotiated their salaries using different techniques. They were then asked to rate their willingness to work with the negotiators (both male and female) as well as their willingness to grant their compensation requests. The authors conclude “While gender constraints are real, they are not inescapable. We expect men to be in charge because they are, and we expect men to earn more because typically they do … every woman who reduces the gender gap in pay and authority reforms the social structures that keep women in their place.”


Policy makers, academics, and media reports suggest that women could shrink the gender pay gap by negotiating more effectively for higher compensation. Yet women entering compensation negotiations face a dilemma: They have to weigh the benefits of negotiating against the social consequences of having negotiated. Research shows that women are penalized socially more than men for negotiating for higher pay. To address this dilemma, the authors test strategies to help women improve both their negotiation and social outcomes in compensation negotiations. In Study 1, communicating concern for organizational relationships improved female negotiators’ social outcomes, and offering a legitimate account for compensation requests improved negotiation outcomes. However, neither strategy—alone or in combination—improved both women’s social and negotiation outcomes. Study 2 tested two strategies devised to improve female negotiators’ social and negotiation outcomes by explaining why a compensation request is legitimate in relational terms. Results showed that, although adherence to the feminine stereotype is insufficient, using these ‘‘relational accounts’’ can improve women’s social and negotiation outcomes at the same time. Normative implications of conformity to gender stereotypes to reduce gender pay disparities are discussed.

Read research for free

Article details
Bowles, H., & Babcock, L. (2012). How Can Women Escape the Compensation Negotiation Dilemma? Relational Accounts Are One Answer Psychology of Women Quarterly DOI: 10.1177/0361684312455524

This entry was posted in Psychology, SAGE Insight and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.