When the first female executive editor at The New York Times was suddenly let go last week, it spurred lots of conversations about how gender may have influenced the firing decision. Jill Abramson’s management and communications styles have been characterized by reporters as being “pushy” and “demanding,” which probably falls under the umbrella of “management issues” sited by the publisher as the reason for her dismissal. Would a man using the same style have been kicked out or was the reaction to Abramson negative because it was in conflict with our society’s gender behavior expectations?
Research from 2011 shows that people – both males and females – react differently to a woman who shows assertive behavior than to a man showing the same behavior in the work place. One famous study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Behavior showed that men who are very assertive (to the point of being thought of as “jerks”) in their business style actually make the most money and are considered the most successful. This group outperformed “nice guys” and all women in terms of compensation. On the other end of the spectrum, women who act in a similar manner were the least successful when compared to all men and women who were considered “nice.” Assertiveness in men is interpreted as strong leadership, confident, and appropriate. With women, it’s just the opposite – they are perceived as aggressive and unlikable. Not only do men see it this way, but most women agree. In fact, in another gender study, women overwhelmingly preferred being supervised by men because they characterized women supervisors as more difficult to work with and “micromanagers.”
The issue of compensation also comes into play. Before being fired, Abramson learned that her salary as Executive Editor was lower than her male predecessor’s as well as the man who was the former Deputy Managing Editor (a lower position than Abramson’s.) She confronted the publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, about the difference in pay, and apparently, that didn’t sit well with him. Studies from 2014 show that women who pursue negotiation in salary raises often are perceived as aggressive and demanding, which can backfire. While Sulzberger claims Abramson was fired over “management issues,” one wonders whether her demand for equal pay was one of the underlying “issues.”
Several studies, including one conducted this year at the University of Texas, show that one reason women are making less money than men is their lack of experience and confidence to negotiate their salaries… or even ask for higher compensation. According to a survey of HR executives, men are much more likely to ask for higher compensation after getting an offer than are women. It’s been shown that women are more likely to wait to be offered a raise. Unfortunately, waiting is not an effective strategy when it comes to compensation.
As a woman in business, you may be feeling “you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” So what do you do now?
According to recent studies on negotiation strategies for women, the most successful women were those who conformed to the feminine stereotype- being agreeable, kind, and considerate of others when in the workplace. One tip is to speak up about your interest in a raise, but be in the mind frame of asking, not demanding. The 2014 study from the University of Texas also revealed that women were more successful getting to “yes” when they were negotiating on behalf of other colleagues or friends than when they were advocating for themselves. The lead psychologist in the study encourages women to think about their dependents while negotiating pay raises to duplicate the sense of negotiating on behalf of others.
Share your experience. What strategies have you seen work in compensation negotiations?