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Ponnada: The dangers of asking for a raise

BY SRI PONNADA | JUNE 26, 2014 5:00 AM

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Ever since Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, came out, everyone’s been raving about how women need to stand up for their rights and negotiate at work, etc., etc. I totally agree with all of that. I always thought that if more women “leaned in” and tried to negotiate their salaries and benefits, maybe the horrendous gender wage gap we have in America would finally start to close up. But now, new studies are saying that leaning in may actually get a woman kicked out.

The results of four studies conducted by researchers at Harvard and Carnegie Mellon found that women who negotiated their salaries were penalized more than men. And it wasn’t just the stereotypical old white male in an Armani suit doing all the penalizing either. Women penalized other women for asking for more, too.

Why is this happening? Do people just hate women? Yes (obviously, I’m being sarcastic). But on a serious note, people do seem to view women who negotiate in a very negative light.

According to researchers at Rutgers University, women who make it to the hiring or promotion process — that is, they have been selected from the pool of applicants and are being interviewed for the job — are no longer judged based on their competence, but rather on their social skills (I guess it’s just that important for an employer to know whether or not the woman he’s hiring to be an electrical engineer behaves like a lady). Anyway, when these women negotiate, employers perceive them to be lacking in social etiquette — because, clearly, it’s wrong for women to ask for more.

We’re just supposed to be thankful they’re letting us out of the kitchen and into the workplace, so it seems. On the other hand, men who negotiate don’t necessarily suffer the same consequences. In fact, they may even be rewarded for their confidence in their abilities.

It’s a real problem, even here in Iowa City. According to a report by The Daily Iowan citing a study done by the American Association of University Professors, even fulltime female professors at the university are subjected to a lower pay than their male counterparts — low enough to place it behind the other regent universities and all other Big Ten institutions.

I know many people who got hyped up on Lean In and recently started choosing the path of feminism are probably dismayed by this news. It is unfortunate. People are constantly trying to beat it into young women’s brains that they should take initiative and negotiate their starting salaries, because what you start with really does make a difference in the long run. But here are these studies, which prove that asking for more is asking for trouble.

So, what do you do?

Well, you might as well risk asking for more rather than shy away from asking because you’d be getting (metaphorically) nothing to start with anyway — right? It might also be beneficial to be mindful of how we negotiate. For instance, instead of sitting down and listing demands, requesting them tactfully is a better approach.

And even if you don’t end up getting all the benefits you requested, or that five-grand bonus, you’d still be contributing to the greater good of our society by pushing the boundaries. The more women negotiate, the more normal it becomes for other women to do so as well, and the more likely it’ll be for those negotiations to happen in our favor.


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