Women negotiate salaries just as well as men — just not for themselves

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Men earn more than women, but it’s not because of a stronger ability to negotiate salaries. A recent study is debunking the myth that part of the reason for the gender pay gap is that women are worse at negotiating salaries. Researchers from USC say it turns out both genders are equally bad at working out lucrative deals.

“People aren’t good at negotiating in general. There’s a need for this kind of training in STEM especially. The 20% on the table — that’s true across genders; there is no difference,” says Gale Lucas, PhD, a research assistant professor for the Institute for Creative Technologies, in a university release.

The researchers created a virtual AI to test negotiation skills without knowing the gender identity of 440 participants who were offered a software engineering position. The team notes using a virtual agent to study negotiation differences is helpful because it may seem less intimidating than a person.

“Ultimately, you know that this virtual agent isn’t going to judge you or think less of you because you’re a woman computer scientist,” Dr. Lucas explains.

Additionally, virtual agents bypass human biases and the limitations of scripted bots. The virtual agent could also include “stereotype threats” that insinuate gender biases so that researchers could understand how gender biases may affect a work environment.

Women show a stronger ability to work out deals for others

Before negotiating any salary package, the participants needed to provide a minimum salary expectation and explain how much they value perks such as salary, stock options, or bonuses. About 43 percent of participants did not negotiate at all. Job seekers also left 20 percent of the contract value available to them on the table.

Those that did negotiate, both men and women, displayed poor negotiating skills while facing the virtual agent. However, there were also differences in the negotiating tactics men and women use.

Women negotiated just as well as men when they were negotiating the salary of another person. However, when it came to their own deal, women did worse at negotiating their own salary than men.

“This suggests that such differences may be due to the fear of social stigma against women seeking to benefit themselves too much — a stigma that women typically find difficult to navigate around on their own,” says Peter Kim, PhD, MS, of the USC Marshall School of Business.

Negotiating was better than not negotiating at all

People who did negotiate were able to increase their starting package by an extra $13,000 in comparison to those that did not negotiate. Women also valued stock options less than men during the negotiating process.

“When we asked women their bottom line going into the negotiation, they were willing to settle for less if they thought the environment is hostile to a woman, suggesting they did expect unfair treatment,” concludes Jonathan Gratch, PhD, director for Interactive Narrative Research at the Institute for Creative Technologies.

“Yet this expectation didn’t impact their final outcome when the interviewer ignored their gender, as our AI was programmed to do. This is consistent with the story that the problem is with the men that are interviewing the women, not the women themselves.”

The researchers presented their findings at the 21st ACM International Conference on Intelligent Virtual Agents.

About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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