Who Can Lean In? The Intersecting Role of Race and Gender in Negotiations

In the United States, differences in salary negotiation behavior are shaped by both gender and race. White women, Asian women, and Asian men feared more backlash for being too demanding in negotiations, as compared to White men.



Despite efforts to advance gender equality, the gender wage gap, or the difference between women's and men's earnings, has persisted. In 2017, women in the U.S. earned 81.9 cents for every dollar men earned for the same work. These disparities vary further by race: White women earned 81.3 cents for every dollar White men earned, while Asian American women earned 78.4 cents for every dollar Asian American men earned and 95.8 cents for every dollar White men earned.

In examining the underlying causes of the gender wage gap, prior research has suggested that men are more likely than women to ask for a higher salary and to hold higher expectations for economic outcomes. This research on gender differences in salary negotiation has largely focused on White samples in North America, however, without considering the effects of other demographic traits, including race.

Prior research has also shown that employees face the most backlash in negotiations when they behave in ways that run counter to their social stereotype (e.g. a woman behaving assertively). Researchers in this two-part study investigated whether the intersection of race and gender in stereotypes of submissiveness based on gender and race impacted negotiation behavior. Study 1 compared the phrasing of White and Asian participants' hypothetical requests for a higher salary, as well as participants' rating of requests across the metrics of assertiveness, warmth, and anticipated effectiveness. Study 2 compared White and Asian participants' hypothetical numerical salary requests.

Toosi, Semnani-Azad, Shan, Mor and Amanatullah expanded on this work in a later chapter, linked here. This chapter is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Katherine W. Phillips, one of the co-authors of the original piece summarized here.


Differences in salary negotiation behavior are shaped by both gender and race.

Study 1

  • White women rated their salary requests as less assertive and reported less confidence in their likelihood of resulting in a higher salary than White men. 
  • Contrary to past research that focused only on gender, without taking into consideration race, Asian women and Asian men did not differ significantly in assertiveness and confidence ratings. Asian women had the same confidence levels as Asian men and White men.

Study 2

  • Contrary to what may have been predicted by prior research focusing only on gender, Asian women’s first offers for salary requests did not differ significantly from those of White men.  
  • White women made lower salary requests than White men. 
  • Asian women and Asian men did not differ significantly in their salary requests.
  • The relationship between race and gender and salary requests was influenced by concerns about negotiation backlash, or punishment for being too demanding, rather than social backlash, or being seen as too pushy. 
  • White men reported more comfort with asking for higher salaries without concern for punishment for being too demanding than White women, Asian women, and Asian men.

These findings evidence the importance of integrating intersectionality into assessments of demographic disparities in salary negotiation behavior. Practitioners who advance or implement strategies for improving gender equity in negotiation should take into account the specific dynamics of each intersectional group, and human resources professionals should work to address the backlash that contributes to behavior disparities and increase the transparency of salary decisions. 


Study 1

The participants in Study 1 were 145 White or Asian students at an American university. After completing an initial demographic survey, participants were asked to imagine that they had received a job offer with a salary of $70,000 and a non-negotiable standard benefits package. They were tasked with creating up to three ways to phrase a request for a higher salary and then rating each request on its assertiveness, its warmth and friendliness, and their confidence that it would result in an increased salary offer. 

Study 2

The participants in Study 2 were 980 White or Asian adults recruited through Amazon's MTurk system. Participants were asked to imagine that they had received a job offer from a consulting firm and provided information for preparing for salary negotiations, including that the average salary for comparable positions was approximately $40,000 per year. Participants were asked to provide dollar amounts in response to questions regarding how much they would suggest as a starting salary, how much they felt they could request without being perceived as pushy, and how much they felt they could request without being punished for being too demanding. They also completed a demographic survey. 

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