Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide

International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management

ISSN: 1741-0401

Article publication date: 1 June 2004



(2004), "Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide", International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, Vol. 53 No. 4. https://doi.org/10.1108/ijppm.2004.07953dae.004



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide

Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide

Linda Babcock and Sara LascheverPrinceton University PressISBN: 069108940X£16.95

Babcock and Laschever offer evidence to confirm that, since the 1990s, women’s progress up the corporate hierarchy has slowed: the glass ceiling still exists. This book is their contribution to finding ways to address this situation.

They suggest that a key factor is that women do not ask for what they want and this disadvantages them significantly in their careers. What’s more they suggests that it has not got better: that “modern women” (in their 20s and 30s) are no better than their mothers. This results in a lack of career progression and in the evident pay gap between women and men in executive roles.

The authors then identify barriers that prevent women from asking for what they want and start to suggest ways for those barriers to be removed. And this is where the book starts to lose its way. This does not mean that this is not a well-written, thoroughly researched book or that they do not argue a cogent case. Just that they spend so long on the analysis that they never really get to the solutions.

They make some good points:

  • that gender schema are set at a very young age, so that girls learn that the world is controlled by men;

  • that women undervalue the work they do, so their own sense of entitlement is set at a low level;

  • that men are “self-oriented” and women are “other-oriented”, leading women to seek to protect relationships, whereas men find negotiation exciting and fun and don’t worry about relationships;

  • that women see life as relatively fixed, whereas men see and seize opportunities for change;

  • that the “rules” on acceptable behaviour are different for men and women;

  • that women work within existing rules and structures, and don’t realise what could be changed by asking, whereas men are conditioned not to play by rules;

  • the perception among women that “nice girls don’t ask” and so on.

They draw on real-life experiences of men and women as evidence for these arguments.

They do go on to make some recommendations. They suggest that women should work for themselves, change the male-dominated culture from within or choose their company wisely. They refer to these as “smart choices” but they are not exactly earth-shattering.

They do come up with a great phrase – “negotiation jujitsu” – to suggest the use of “feminine skills” to disarm the tough guys. However, they also use a phrase such as “training intervention” simply to imply that women should get training in negotiation.

So the book varies from the excellent research to the simplistic remedies. There was a good book to be written on this topic – this is only half of it.

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