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Women, Networks And Negotiation

September 1 2010 - Informal support networks in the workplace are less advantageous to women employees in terms of career progression according to research led by Indiana University.

The study evaluated the informal network support available within a large financial services organization. The majority of employees are women, but they tend to be located in lower-status positions. Researchers suggest that higher-status male employees are able to monopolize and exchange resources within networks. The greater social support received by women, especially from other female colleagues, produced less long-term benefit in career terms.

Lead researcher Gail McGuire, chair of the department of sociology and anthropology said:

"We have laws that prohibit discrimination and enforce equal pay, but that only touches the surface. We need to look at informal professional structures, not formal ones. These are the real sources of inequality."

Women do negotiate

A number of business texts, including a popular book 'Women Don't Ask' suggest that businesswomen are hesitant to negotiate for what it would take to be successful at work. But a survey by the Simmons School of Management and HP of nearly 500 middle and senior-level businesswomen published in 2006 revealed that they are highly likely to negotiate when they take on a challenging new project or job. The vast majority of those who did so reported higher performance reviews, significantly more job satisfaction, ongoing opportunities for new leadership roles, and less likelihood of leaving their companies than those who didn't negotiate.

The survey also showed that women with the most experience in leadership situations tend to carefully diagnose any new position before accepting it; first checking with a broad network of informal 'career advisors' inside and outside the company about what should be negotiated.

Deborah Kolb, professor at the Simmons School of Management, said:

"Many studies of women and negotiating are based on role-playing and games. But when you look at negotiating in the real world, around leadership opportunities and challenges, we see that the successful women do, indeed, negotiate. And it pays off for everyone.

"That's a powerful message to companies as well as to women who want to get ahead. Companies should encourage women to negotiate. If they say, 'Let's sit down and figure out what you need up front to be successful in this new job,' it pays off in higher motivation and lower turnover."

The survey found that of the businesswomen who reported taking on a new leadership role:

  • 84 per cent said they negotiated with their superiors for additional financial or human resources.
  • 62 per cent negotiated for support for their agenda, and for a strategic introduction that made the case why they were right for the job.
  • 52 per cent negotiated over job title, job descriptions, key reporting relationships, and mutual expectations with the boss.

Outcomes of women who said they negotiated included:

  • 75 per cent reported they were significantly satisfied with their jobs, compared with 27 per cent who did not negotiate.
  • 70 per cent said they were not likely to consider employment elsewhere, compared with 30 per cent who did not negotiate.
  • 81 per cent said they were offered additional opportunities for leadership roles.
  • 86 per cent reported that their last performance review 'exceeded or far exceeded' their expectations.

Deborah Kolb said women should not think the choice is simply to accept or decline a challenging new assignment.

She commented:

"No job that's a challenge and a stretch is a perfect fit. Some aspects build on your strengths, others represent a steep learning curve. Ask yourself, 'What would it take to make me say yes to this offer? How can I make the job fit who I am, where I am?'

"Access your strengths and weaknesses, and negotiate for whatever you need in the way of job title, resources, a safety net, and senior level support for any difficult actions you may have to take. Dig deep to gather good intelligence and then enlist people to help. That's what successful women do.

"Women who don't negotiate, who just take the job offered to them, are creating problems for themselves down the road."

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