Social Incentives for Gender Differences in the Propensity to Initiate Negotiations: Sometimes It Does Hurt to Ask

Women who initiate negotiations in the workplace are more likely to be penalized than their male counterparts.


When it comes to negotiating, men and women face different opportunities and challenges. Research has shown that in promotion and hiring, women are less likely to initiate negotiations, more likely to experience anxiety from negotiations, and less likely to perceive benefits and non-salary items as negotiable (Lauterbach & Weiner, 1996, Babcock et al., 2006, Babcock, Gelfand, Small, & Stayn, 2006; Babcock & Laschever, 2003). Conventional responses to this disparity suggest that women should be more assertive in asking for compensation and promotions, like men. However, as men and women’s actions are perceived differently, women’s reluctance to negotiate may be a correct read of the social penalties for asking. To determine why women are less likely to negotiate, researchers designed four experiments to test whether the social cost of initiating salary negotiations is different for men and women. In doing so, the authors broaden the scope of discourse regarding compensation negotiation to understand the social context and possible repercussions for women who attempt to negotiate.

  • Women are penalized more than men when initiating salary negotiations. This result suggests that women (as compared to men) might be more reluctant to negotiate in the workplace because they incur higher social costs from doing so.
  • When hiring candidates, evaluators are significantly less willing to hire both men and women who initiated negotiations. However, the negative effect of negotiating is more than two times greater for women than it is for men.
  • When assessing willingness to work with candidates, there was no decline in evaluators’ willingness to work with a male candidate who attempted negotiations. However, the negative effect of initiating a negotiation is 5.5 times greater if the candidate is female. Evaluators seem to perceive women who negotiate as too demanding and not nice, these factors do not explain the evaluators’ lack of resistance to a man negotiating.
  • When assessing willingness to work with a candidate from written transcripts, both female and male evaluators penalized female applicants for negotiating. When assessing candidates through videotapes, female evaluators penalized both male and female candidates equally for negotiating whereas male evaluators only penalized women candidates. 

Please see: How Can Women Escape the Compensation Negotiation Dilemma? Relational Accounts Are One Answer, 2013.


The study involved four different experiments: three testing individuals’ differential perceptions between women and men who initiate negotiations, and one testing participants’ willingness to initiate compensation negotiations.

In Experiment 1 and 2, participants were randomly assigned a resume and interview notes describing a job candidate. All profiles were identical except for experimentally varying the gender of the candidate and whether or not they had attempted to negotiate. In Experiment 1, participant assessed how likely it would be for their candidate to be hired for an internship.  In Experiment 2, participants indicated their willingness to work with the candidate.

While Experiment 1 and 2 used written notes of the interview, in Experiment 3 researchers showed participants a video of candidates either accepting or negotiating their offers (actors played these roles and researchers aimed for similar voice pace, facial expressions and attractiveness between genders).  In Experiment 4, participants adopted the role of the job candidate and were asked to assess whether they preferred to initiate negotiations or to accept the salary offer using the same scenario as in Experiment 3.

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