I'm really intrigued by Megan McArdle's description (okay, it's third-hand, hence the multiply nested blockquotes) of a study on gender norms in negotiation situations:
[MEGAN McA.]: One of the reasons that women are paid less than men is that they don't negotiate. The advice that follows is usually, "Well, negotiate!" But in fact, women don't negotiate for very good reason, as Kevin Drum points out:
[KEVIN D.] I apologize for sticking around, but there's a reason. I've run into this before myself, and have always told women "Just ask! The worst that can happen is that they say no." But that's not actually the case. Here's a bit of research on the subject:
Their study...found that women's reluctance [to negotiate] was based on an entirely reasonable and accurate view of how they were likely to be treated if they did...."What we found across all the studies is men were always less willing to work with a woman who had attempted to negotiate than with a woman who did not," Bowles said. "They always preferred to work with a woman who stayed mum. But it made no difference to the men whether a guy had chosen to negotiate or not."
[Back to MEGAN McA.] When I was in business school, I learned about a case that had been run experimentally. I may hash some of the details, but the gist is that half the classes that used it read about "John" facing a tough management problem, while the other half read about "Jane" facing the same problem. No detail other than the names had been changed.
But what a difference a name makes! "John" was a strong, thoughtful leader making tough choices about what was best for his group. "Jane" was a headstrong bitch who was wildly overstepping her authority and generally making a mess of things.
No woman is unaware of these dynamics.
Let's see if I can sum this up correctly -- negotiation is in reality a riskier game for women to play, so they act in their own interest by doing it less often (or perhaps less directly). Instructing women to negotiate, then, perhaps may meet with one measure of success (more women will attempt to make gains by negotiating) but maybe will be repaid by biteback (some may be "punished" for the effort).
I would really like to write about this subject from personal experience because it intrigues me, but I am spectacularly disqualified to comment on my own ability to negotiate or on my response to other people negotiating, as I have historically been an opinionated yet socially awkward introvert with a fixation on facts rather than feelings, probably somewhere on the Asperger's spectrum, and am therefore among the "no" women whom McArdle says are "unaware of these dynamics."
As the commenters on the thread take the time to point out, it would be a mistake to assume that the hostility toward women who negotiate is conscious and overt. It would also be a mistake to assume that it's primarily men who unconsciously punish women who attempt to negotiate; probably women and men both do it.
One thing I find particularly fascinating is the notion of a person who lacks natural social gifts, or who is hampered by prejudices around them, creating sets of rules to mitigate the situation. That is, deliberate behaviors that attempt to create the social interactions that we imagine a truly successful or powerful or gregarious or friendly person can conjure up naturally and without having to think about it. Ways to manipulate people!
(Kind of analogous to a colorblind person imposing a rule on herself to always dress in basic black with a single colorful accessory.)
One commenter writes,
I had read the study Drum references before, and after I saw it I started using two strategies that work well so far: (1) When I'm disagreeing with a man who has a moderately to very high opinion of himself, I smile while I disagree. (2) If I'm giving a presentation with a man, and he speaks first because of the way our presentation is structured or something, I take a step in front of him to address the group.
Small body language things, not threatening, that still allow me to be assertive without offending anyone's subconscious. It's not the way it should be, but it works: I have good relationships with and respect from co-workers and management in a majority-male environment.
Boy, I could have used a lot of tips like this in my past life. There's no need that they have to be laden with judgments about which sex is friendlier or more open or more assertive and whether that's better or whatever, or whether our expectations are good or bad. It seems not unreasonable just to accept that human nature is what it is, and many cultural forces are what they are, and women and men live (typically) under different sets of unconscious expectations and have therefore evolved (typically) different common strategies to meet their goals. Encouraging women and men to adopt each other's apparently successful strategies will likely backfire when it turns out that the unconscious expectations in the environment are not so mutable.