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The Negotiation Gap | Why Do Girls Ask For Less?

A recent study from the US has revealed that the negotiation gap that we know exists for women in the work place begins as early as 8 years old.

By the age of 8, girls began to ask for less than their male counterparts.

US researchers Sophie Arnold and Katherine McAuliffe, gave children aged between 4 and 9 the opportunity to negotiate for a bonus; the bonus in this case – stickers. Children were asked to perform a series of tasks and were then asked how many stickers they should receive as a reward. By the age of 8, girls began to ask for less than their male counterparts. Girls on average asked for 2 stickers less than boys, but only when negotiating with a male evaluator. When children negotiated with a female evaluator they asked for the same remuneration.

This is in fact exactly what we see in adult negotiations. Research shows that women ask for less than their male counterparts, particularly when negotiating with men. Women and men negotiate on a par when negotiating with a woman.

the negotiation is dependant on the gender of the evaluator.

This is interesting in that it is telling us that this negotiation gap isn’t a static force operating within the individual women or girl, it isn’t simply that women aren’t as willing to negotiate or aren’t as good at it. Rather, the negotiation is dependant on the person who is being negotiated with, on the evaluator, or more accurately it is dependant on the gender of the evaluator.

What we’re really seeing is women who know that they won’t do well if the evaluator is male

So why would this be the case? Why would women and girls be reluctant to ask for more when dealing with a man? Given that they are perfectly able to negotiate with a women, the answer must involve something they have learnt about men. Evidence suggests that male evaluators are more likely to penalise women who initiate negotiations than they are to penalise men for doing the same. So what we’re really seeing is women who know that they won’t do well if the evaluator is male; they know that they will be treated more harshly than their male colleagues.

Girls know, by the age of 8, that they are not going to be given a fair shot by men.

Crucially, this new research looking at children’s negotiating behaviour suggests that girls know, by the age of 8, that they are not going to be given a fair shot by men. They know that the men see them as less worthy than their male peers.

This problem isn’t a problem with women or girls, as it is often framed. It is a problem with men. Men are discriminating against women and girls. Women and girls have come to expect it and have developed strategies to manage it or to mitigate it, but they are not causing it.

What are men doing to signal to girls that they are worth less to them?

The question we should ask then, is what are men doing to signal to girls that they are worth less to them? More research is required in order to answer this question and funding should be focused in this area. For now though, I am reminded of another study by US researcher Kristen Mammen, who found that fathers spend less time with daughters than they do with sons. This revelation is very sad and yet, once digested has the effect of becoming entirely obvious, as if we already knew. Mothers on the other hand, spent a set amount of time with their children regardless of gender.

Time spent with parents is the ultimate currency for children, and girls are being short-changed.

Time spent with parents is the ultimate currency for children, and girls are being short-changed. Girls learn early on that they are treated differently from their brothers and that they are worth less to their own fathers. We must stop under-valuing women and girls, it starts early and it continues to affect women throughout their working lives and beyond.