#187      25 min 48 sec
Damned if you do: How gender colors perceptions in negotiations

Professor of Management Mara Olekalns discusses the complicated effects of gender in negotiations, how women can be disadvantaged when negotiating on their own behalf, and what they can do about it. Presented by Eric van Bemmel.

"Women do most poorly in their negotiations when the culture emphasizes individual performance and takes the cult of the individual as the measure of worth in the organisation." -- Prof Mara Olekalns




Prof. Mara Olekalns
Professor Mara Olekalns

Mara Olekalns' expertise is within the fields of negotiation and conflict resolution. Her research focuses on communication processes in negotiation. She is interested in how the timing and sequencing of negotiation strategies affects negotiators’ outcomes, particularly their ability to create value in the negotiation; and als in identifying the contextual, cognitive and dispositional factors that shape strategy choice and sequencing. More recently, she investigated the impact of first impressions and turning points on trust in negotiation.

In addition to her role at Melbourne Business School, Mara has been a Visiting Research Scholar at Kellogg Graduate School of Management’s Dispute Resolution Research Centre. She has held lecturing positions at the University of Melbourne and University of Otago, as well as a range of management positions in the Australian Public Service. She also has considerable experience as a presenter on executive development programs.

Mara has published in leading international management, psychology and communication journals, and has presented her work extensively at international conferences. She was a board member of the International Association of Conflict Management and is on the Editorial Board of the International Journal of Conflict Management.

Selected publications

Relevant articles:

Credits

Presenter: Eric van Bemmel
Producers: Kelvin Param, Eric van Bemmel
Audio Engineers: Gavin Nebauer
Voiceover: Nerissa Hannink
Series Creators: Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param

View Tags  click a tag to find other episodes associated with it.

Download file Download mp3 (23.6 MB)

VOICEOVER 
Welcome to Up Close, the research talk show from the University of Melbourne, Australia. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
I'm Eric van Bemmel. Thanks for joining us. When you're sitting down with your new employer to negotiate your salary, how are you expected to behave? Should you take an assertive stance seizing every opportunity in discussions to push for the pay you feel you're entitled to? Or are you more focused on keeping relations with the boss good - not rocking the boat too much, even if it means accepting less than what you think you really deserve? One of these approaches may come more naturally to you and it may, in part, depend on whether you're a woman or a man. But which will get you the better wage, and even if you get the pay outcome you're after, how will you later be seen in the organisation? What price will you have to pay down the line? Our guest on Up Close this episode, is Mara Olekalns, Professor of Management at Melbourne Business School. Professor Olekalns, with colleagues, has done extensive research into the complicated effects of gender in negotiations and in particular how women can be disadvantaged when negotiating on their own behalf, and what they can do about it. Mara thanks for joining us. 

MARA OLEKALNS 
You're welcome.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
Now Mara, there are numerous studies looking at gender in the negotiation setting. Why is this topic important?

MARA OLEKALNS 
The topic has become important because over the last 10 or so years we've documented, not just a gap in women's and men's economic outcomes, but a growing gap in wage outcomes. So despite decades of equal opportunity legislation, it seems that women still fall behind men in terms of their salaries, in terms of their retirement savings. We see it around the world. A recent survey by the OECD shows that the average wage gap around the world is approximately 17 per cent, so women typically earn 17 per cent less than men. But it can be as high as 30 per cent in some countries. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL There is this disparity in remuneration between men and women it seems. I guess logically one of the reasons is a difference in negotiating styles, which is the subject of a lot of your own research; differences in the way that women negotiate for their pay and conditions versus the way that men do. Can we just look at what, say, a typical male negotiating style is. 

MARA OLEKALNS 
Sure. So a male style maps very well onto what we think of as a typical effective negotiator. They tend to be assertive, they tend to use rational arguments, they tend to build a case based on persuasion and influence. So in short they're quite assertive, heading towards competitive. This is quite different to how women approach negotiation. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
And how would that be typically done? 

MARA OLEKALNS 
So women are more likely to not negotiate to begin with. So they are far more reluctant than men to negotiate and see much less of the world as negotiable. So even going into a negotiation they see a far smaller range of possibilities and options in terms of what they can ask for in a negotiation. The second difference is in the way that they go about planning their negotiation. So we know that women typically set lower target points for themselves than men. That is, when they try and imagine what it's possible for them to achieve in a negotiation, they typically predict that they'll get about 30 per cent less than a male would predict. And we know from negotiation research that the quality of your outcome is absolutely tied to the target point that you set; a lower target point means a lower outcome. The third way that they differ from men is in their willingness to persist in the face of adversity. So all of us, in a negotiation, encounter a few sticking points - times when things look like they're getting a bit tough and we might not reach a deal. Men are very willing to push through those and keep going, whereas women, when they encounter adversity, tend to close the negotiation and leave at that point. So they're taking away the opportunity to push a little bit harder and to improve their outcome. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
And I've read that some men liken these negotiations to fun, whereas women liken it to a trip to the dentist. 

MARA OLEKALNS 
That's right. So for women there's considerably more anxiety around the whole idea of negotiation. And that's partly because our mental model of what a negotiation is, is that it's about competition and that doesn't sit as well with how women see relationships in the world around them. So women are more likely to think about the long term consequences of any interaction that they have and because they see any interaction, or any negotiation they have, as contributing to the long term relationship, they try to avoid tension and they try to avoid disrupting the relationship. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
So preserving relationships is the priority here, rather than looking after one's own interests. 

MARA OLEKALNS 
That's right. So women weight preserving relationships over their own interests, whereas men tend to weight their own interests over preserving relationships. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
So Mara, I suppose this then is one of the reasons that women don't do as well in these negotiations; that their style. What if they were to adopt more male style - more competitive style in negotiation. What happens then? 

MARA OLEKALNS 
That's the natural implication of thinking about women's style which is more accommodating. But it turns out that women are in a double bind in negotiations - that whether they follow the typically female style or whether they decide to switch to a more competitive style, neither works particularly well. So we know that when women just initiate a negotiation, they get punished for it. It doesn't even matter how they go about negotiating. Just by virtue of asking they're seen as more pushy, more aggressive and as less desirable work colleagues. So then if we think about why this happens, it's because the gender stereotypes that pervade our expectations about how men and women behave is that women are essentially likeable; that they're nice, they're warm, they're friendly, they care about relationships. When they ask for something they're violating all of those stereotypes and they're violating them in a negative way. What I mean by that is that I expect someone to be nice and I expect them to be friendly - if they behave in a tough and competitive way it comes as a negative surprise to me. It's a bad thing. Consequently I want to, in some way, punish them for that. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL What are the consequences then for women who do violate these expectations? 

MARA OLEKALNS 
So when we get these negative violations of expectations, our response is to try and, not exactly get revenge, but to try and punish people. So what I'm going to try and do if I experience a negative violation is get control of the situation. In a negotiation it means that I'm more likely to become competitive in response to you, I'm more likely to actually become tougher and try and undermine your attempts to get a good deal in a negotiation. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
By the way, when you say competitive - are we talking about the words that are used? The tone that's taken? 

MARA OLEKALNS 
It's a number of things. So it's the words that are used. It's also the strategies that people focus on. So competitive negotiators tend to focus a lot on argumentation and on taking the arguments of the other person. They make more extreme demands - that is demands that favour themselves - and they're less willing to make concessions. So they start working harder towards improving their own outcomes rather than thinking about how they can build good outcomes for both people. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
Now it's worth, I suppose, reiterating that we're talking about strictly situations where women are negotiating their own interests perhaps opposite an employer, the HR department of their company, something like that. We're not talking about, for example, a situation where a woman is negotiating on behalf of her company opposite another company, for example. 

MARA OLEKALNS 
[All] Right. It's an interesting question, because it turns out that when women negotiate on behalf of others the double bind continues for them in a slightly different way. So we do know that women are better at negotiating on behalf of others than on behalf of themselves and it becomes legitimate for them in that context to behave more competitively. So there's an expectation that if I'm negotiating on behalf of someone else I will be more competitive. What that means is if women carry their more natural cooperative style into a negotiation, where they're negotiating on behalf of someone else, they get punished for that.So what happens is that if I'm negotiating directly with you, I get punished for being competitive and rewarded for being accommodating. But if I'm negotiating on behalf of my organisation or on behalf of someone else, the effect reverses. I get punished if I continue to behave in an accommodating problem solving way, but I get rewarded if I behave competitively. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
To behave competitively, on behalf of your company, is being a team player, which is preserving relationships in some ways. 

MARA OLEKALNS 
That's right. But it's also conforming with the stereotype of what someone in an agency role would do. So I think, at that point, the stereotypes about what a good agent does override the stereotypes of how women behave. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
I'm Eric van Bemmel and on Up Close this episode we're speaking with negotiation and conflict resolution expert Professor Mara Olekalns about differences in negotiating styles between women and men and what this means when bargaining with the boss on matters of pay and working conditions. Up Close comes to you from the University of Melbourne, Australia.Now Mara, if the only information we've got about our negotiating partner is, for example, their gender - they're someone new, we haven't met them - I suppose some of these stereotypes, expectations, will come into play. If it's someone we've dealt with, say for many years, we know them fairly well as individuals. Do these expectations have the strength still? 

MARA OLEKALNS 
I don't think they are quite as strong, because you're right that when we don't know the other person we draw on any information that we have available and that includes our stereotyped expectations. But these prescriptive gender stereotypes are very subtle and really pervade the way that we think about the world. So we have a lot of research which shows us, not in negotiation, but in organisational life in general that even long term employees who are female - if they violate gender stereotypes - are seen as harsh, as incompetent and often receive poorer performance appraisals, personal vilification. So there's less of an effect, but the effect is still there. It actually becomes more subtle - it's very hard to dispute a poor performance appraisal and point to the effective gender role expectations. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
Now just to add an extra layer of complexity to this scenario, when you've got a woman in negotiation, say for her salary, does it make a difference if the negotiating partner is a male or a female? 

MARA OLEKALNS 
It does, and the intuitive answer to that would be that women should do better with other women. We would hope that, you know, as a group we treat each other better and that we are immune to gender stereotypes. However it seems that this is not what happens in negotiation. We know, in general, that women are less trusting and in general they feel more negative towards anyone who negotiates. So just those general tendencies suggest that when another woman negotiates with them, they're not going to like the experience.But perhaps more importantly, there are two effects that we know from social psychology that suggest women would be harsher towards other women. The first is the Queen Bee effect. The Queen Bee effect talks about senior women who, having made it to the top of the organisation, become very reluctant to assist junior women and in fact start perpetuating gender stereotypes. The second effect is the Black Sheep effect. So it turns out that if someone who we perceive to be similar to us, so part of our in-group, violates our expectations about how they'll behave, we see them as a Black Sheep and that means we actually become more punitive towards them. So both of these effects suggest that women may be better off negotiating with men than with other women. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
There's a bit of Catch 22 here, is there not? 

MARA OLEKALNS 
There certainly is. 
ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
What about when males behave counter to what we expect, just out of interest. You know, what impressions are formed by the opposite party and what are the consequences? 

MARA OLEKALNS 
[All] Right. So you know, the bad news for women continues. When men behave counter to stereotypes they create a positive violation. So my expectation about men, based on gender stereotypes, is that they will be competitive, they will be assertive and they will be looking out for themselves. So then I start a negotiation with a man and it turns out that he's worried about me and what I want in the negotiation, he's worried about the impact on the long term relationship, he actually looks like he's trying to help me and to problem solve with me. He's actually behaving better than I expected. So it gives him a boost in likeability. So for him the consequences of stereotype violations turn out to be positive. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
Now Mara, you have done, working with colleagues, research into the perceptions of trustworthiness of women in these negotiation scenarios. Can you tell us, why is trustworthiness important and what were you looking for in this research? 

MARA OLEKALNS 
Right. So trust is very central, not just to negotiation, but to our ability to form and maintain relationships. So there's a lot of research now looking at how men and women build networks and trust is a really critical component to being able to establish good relationships and to build and preserve our networks. So we accrue social capital in the form of trust when people like us. Now in a negotiation this is particularly important because all of the kinds of behaviours that help us to deliver good outcomes, both for ourselves and the other person, help us to engage in problem solving, are all dependent on trust in the other person. Because if I use those kinds of cooperative problem solving strategies in a situation where you're untrustworthy, you can take that and turn it to your advantage and exploit me. So I need a lot of reassurance that you're a trustworthy negotiator before I decide that I'm going to go ahead and cooperate. So we really want to start our negotiations from a base of trust if what we're hoping to do is cooperate and problem solve. Then what we've been interested in exploring in our research is the conditions under which women either build trust or erode trust in a negotiation. We've looked at who they negotiate with, we've looked at whether they negotiate with a gender-congruent accommodating style or a gender-incongruent competing style. Then we've also asked whether the organisational culture within which they negotiate makes a difference. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
How did you actually go about carrying out the study? 

MARA OLEKALNS 
So all of my research is laboratory based. So it's a very typical kind of psychology experiment. We invite people into the laboratory and we give them a scenario. So one person comes in and takes on the role of an employer. The other person comes in and takes on the role of an applicant. They're given quite a lot of background information about the employment contract they'll be negotiating and then we give them about half an hour to try and reach agreement. Within the information they get we do a little bit of manipulation of the kinds of strategies that we encourage them to use, a little bit of a description about the organisation that they're working in and the organisational culture and all of that builds a picture for them about the appropriateness or inappropriateness of particular strategies. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
And so what did you find? 

MARA OLEKALNS 
First we found it turns out to be quite difficult for women to build trust. Our first finding is that men seem relatively insensitive to women's behaviour. So it doesn't really matter whether women accommodate, whether they compete - men... 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
Are oblivious. 

MARA OLEKALNS 
Yes, that's right - are oblivious. There's no change to the level of trust that they report in women. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
That could be a good thing, I guess, sometimes. 

MARA OLEKALNS 
Yeah, it is a good thing. So at least it stays stable. It might not grow, but it stays stable. What we found when women negotiated with other women, was a little bit more complicated. So on the one hand we found that if women used accommodating strategies then their negotiation counterparts perceived them to be more trustworthy, they perceived them to have similar goals and values, they perceived them to have greater integrity. So this is a good thing.However we also found that at the same time that women were building this kind of relational trust when they were accommodating, they were also building a form of trust that I call deterrence-based trust, which is about my ability to sanction you. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
What do you mean by that? 

MARA OLEKALNS 
Well so, whether I can punish you if you don't deliver on your promises, if you don't keep your commitments. So one way of thinking about trust is, can I control your behaviour by imposing a set of punishments on you that are clear to you, should you violate your promises and commitments. When people start thinking about that kind of sanctioning, it suggests that in some way they're losing trust in the other person, because I don't really worry about how I can control your behaviour through external means if I think you're behaving in a trustworthy way.So when women accommodate at the same time that they build relational forms of trust, they're also priming thoughts in the other woman about how she can sanction a female negotiator. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
So, while both men and women pick up these stereotype violations, if you like, women seem to be the harsher judges? 

MARA OLEKALNS 
Much harsher, yes. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
This is Up Close coming to you from the University of Melbourne, Australia. I'm Eric van Bemmel. In this episode we're speaking with Melbourne Business School Professor of Management, Mara Olekalns, about what women face when negotiating with their employers for a better deal and how they might be able to better their chances.Now Mara, on the topic of bettering their chances, how can women better their negotiation outcomes? Are there some tips that you can offer? 

MARA OLEKALNS 
Sure. There are some very basic things women can do, which I don't believe are going to violate gender stereotypes, which help them better prepare for a negotiation. One of them is just to get much better informed about what's out there and what's negotiable. So in preparing for a negotiation, women should, not just tap their network - which often is other women - but try and go into a broader network, which includes men, to find out what other colleagues have got in terms of employment packages. They might also want to search the web, which now contains a lot of information about what's normative in particular industries. So I think just get informed. Then there are a number of things that they can do, which are a little bit more specific once they start the negotiation. There are two ways that they can tackle the problem. The first is that they can think about offsetting the negative reaction to being competitive. The best way of offsetting that negative attribution is to shift the explanation for the behaviour. So when I come into a negotiation and I behave competitively, your first explanation is that, you know, gee Mara's a tough competitive person. I don't think I'm going to like negotiating with her and I don't want to work with her.So the question is what can I, as the person negotiating, do to shift your perception? A good way of doing that is to bring in some information about what's normative. So what I'm going to try and do is shift your perception from thinking that it's just me being tough, to something about the situation, which is causing me to ask you. So I might come in and say, look, I just went to an industry seminar, I realise that actually I'm a little bit below industry standard in my salary, I wonder if you could help me out here. You know, it seems a little unfair that I'm doing this level of work, but I'm not getting even the industry norm. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
So you're pointing to external standards? 

MARA OLEKALNS 
That's right. Similarly I might try something like, you know, I've been chatting with my mentor. My mentor suggested that I come and talk to you about my salary or my employment package, because he or she thinks it's not quite right. So again, it's just that shift of attributions.The alternative path, which is a little less palatable to most people who hear it, is to try and accentuate the feminine. So I can also just try and amp up the stereotypes and almost hyper-conform to them. So there are a number of ways that we can speak which seem more feminine. We can use what's called powerless speech, so a little bit of uncertainty, a little bit of hesitation - what are called qualifiers. So, I sort of think that maybe kinda I'm not getting the right kind of salary, what do you think - is a very powerless way of speaking, but it is very gender-congruent. Anything that appeals for help. So when we look at the influence literature, we know that women are expected in influence attempts to appeal for help and to look for sympathy. So, can you help me out here, it's really difficult for me.A little bit more palatable, but along this line, is the idea that if we turn this into a problem solving exercise so, if instead of talking in terms of what I want, I talk about how this is good for us; how we can work on this together. So I talk in terms of we and us. It's a linguistic strategy that pulls people closer together and it's also very gender-congruent because it then seems to be emphasizing the relationship. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
Inclusive language. 

MARA OLEKALNS 
That's right. Inclusive language. So these are the two paths that women might choose to take, but I think it's really important to underscore that this is not just a 'fix the woman' problem. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
The organisation is responsible as well. 

MARA OLEKALNS 
That's right. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
What is their responsibility in fact? 

MARA OLEKALNS 
There are a number of things that they can do to improve the situation for women. So the first is, we know that all of these gender differences in employment packages, in salary, disappear when there is transparency about what it's possible to negotiate. So it's only when there is great secrecy around what's possible to negotiate, what appropriate remuneration is, that women suffer. And this suggests that it's because they're not accessing the right kinds of networks to get the information that they need.So organisations could be much more open about what's negotiable and when it's appropriate to negotiate. Being clear about when it's appropriate to negotiate also helps take away the negative attributions, because it takes the element of surprise out of a woman asking. So that's again the negative path. The positive path is for organisations to think about the kind of culture that they create. Women do most poorly when the organisation has a very competitive agentic culture.So again, this is something that I looked at in my research, and women do most poorly in their negotiations when the culture emphasizes individual performance and takes the cult of the individual as the measure of worth in the organisation. There's a small amount of research now starting to show that when we have more communal organisations - so we think about something like public sector organisations or social welfare organisations - it actually improves the situation for women and it takes away a lot of these negative attributions that get made about women. So communal organisations seem more robust to stereotype violations. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
Now just to go back for a moment to what women can do to try to sort of better their negotiation outcomes and to try to prevent the backlash if they go against expectations, I think you've written also that the timing of impressions is important. Women can, let's say initially in these negotiation scenarios, take on more stereotypical behaviours of displaying warmth and communality and then becoming a bit more competitive. So they establish their credentials of being female before they actually push ahead with their own agenda. 

MARA OLEKALNS 
Right. To backtrack a little bit - we form impressions on these two dimensions of likeability and competence. What we find is that perceptions of competence are fairly stable - it's kind of an objective thing. But perceptions of likeability are highly variable. So when women experience backlash, it's not because their perceived competence has increased, it's actually because they're perceived likeability has decreased.So the question is how do we buffer that? How do we prevent that loss of likeability? What my research shows is that one way of doing that is for women to introduce the likeability information about themselves before they start talking about the competence. So if you think about how this might work in a job negotiation or a performance appraisal, you do not start by talking about all of your achievements. This is going to cause your likeability to plummet. What you do is you come in, you sit down with your manager, and first you do a little bit of social chit chat. You remind your manager about the things that you have in common, you ask about his or her kids and family, vacation - five minutes of just ordinary social chit chat. And doing that buffers the introduction of all of your achievements and all of your good performance. If you do it the other way around, there is a big loss in likeability. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
Mara we'll leave it there. Thanks very much for joining us on Up Close today. 
MARA OLEKALNS 
My pleasure. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
That was Mara Olekalns, Professor of Management at the Melbourne Business School. We've been speaking about the effects of gender in negotiations and in particular how women can be disadvantaged when negotiating on their own behalf and what they can do about it. Relevant links, a full transcript of this and all of our episodes can be found at our website at upclose.unimelb.edu.au. Up Close is a production of the University of Melbourne, Australia. This episode was recorded on 27 February 2012 and produced by Kelvin Param and me, Eric van Bemmel. Audio engineering by Gavin Nebauer. Up Close is created by me and Kelvin Param. Thanks for joining us. Until next time, goodbye. 

VOICEOVER 
You've been listening to Up Close. We're also on Twitter and Facebook. For more info, visit upclose.unimelb.edu.au. Copyright 2012, the University of Melbourne.


show transcript | print transcript | download pdf