Women Don't Ask

Buy this Book More Executive Book Reviews

Women Don’t Ask

by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever

Princeton © 2004, 223 pages, $24.95 (ISBN 0-691-08940-X).

Negotiation and the Gender Divide

While examining the discrepancies between the pay and jobs received by men and women in academia, economics professor Linda Babcock and writer Sara Laschever discovered that much of the problem of unequal pay and fewer opportunities for advancement comes from the fact that women do not negotiate as often as men. After conducting several studies of the phenomenon, they realized that the higher salaries of men can often be attributed to men asking for them and women often settling for the first salary offered. In Women Don’t Ask, the authors describe the problem of inequality and offer several solutions to help women gain ground lost to fundamental differences in the ways women and men negotiate.

According to a study conducted by Babcock of students graduating from CarnegieMellonUniversity with master’s degrees, the starting salaries of the men were 7.6 percent or almost $4,000 higher on average than those of the women. According to the authors, only 7 percent of the female students had negotiated their salaries and asked for more money, but 57 percent (8 times as many) of the men had asked for more money. The students who had negotiated were able to increase their starting salaries by 7.4 percent on average, or $4,053 — almost exactly the difference between men’s and women’s average starting pay. The authors write that this suggests that the salary differences between the men and women might have been eliminated if the women had negotiated their offers.

Shared Assumptions

Throughout Women Don’t Ask?, the authors explore the causes of the difference between men’s and women’s use of negotiation. They also examine why women often don’t realize that change is possible and why they don’t know that they can ask. By studying the social forces that shape women and cause them to focus on the needs of others rather than their own needs, the authors show how society’s shared assumptions about what constitutes appropriate female behavior can limit a woman when she wants to assert her own wishes and desires. The authors write that they want to help women promote their own interests by exposing the social forces that constrain them.

Women Don’t Ask also serves as an examination of how modern Western culture strongly discourages women from asking for what they want. By focusing at the culture in general instead of how women need to “fix” themselves, the authors attempt to provoke social change and inspire everyone in the work force and at home to think differently about how women can and should behave. In addition, they use statistics and case studies to show how preventing women from pursuing their dreams and ambitions in straightforward ways involves substantial social and economic costs for everyone.

Deloitte and Touche

The authors cite the international accounting and consulting firm of Deloitte and Touche, which employs about 29,000 people in the United States and 95,000 people worldwide, as an example of how an organization can create a large-scale change. In 1991, the firm decided it had a problem keeping women long enough to qualify for partner. The firm’s average annual turnover rate among female managers was 33 percent. A task force calculated that every percentage point in turnover translated into an estimated $13 million for costs such as recruitment, training, hiring and bonuses. When polled, women cited the firm’s male-dominated culture as a big reason for leaving.

Once Deloitte and Touche started looking at their assumptions about men and women, and began to see the implications of those assumptions, they made changes. By changing the way assignments were made and evaluations were determined, the firm started networking events and career-planning programs especially for women. By 2000, the number of female partners at the firm tripled from 5 to 14 percent, and the company saved close to $250 million in hiring and training costs.

The authors write that the experiences of this company provide a great example for how the rest of us, with a little commitment and persistent focus, can change our world. By shining a spotlight on the barriers that prevent women from asking for what they want, and suggesting ways for those barriers to be removed, the authors provide a vision of what is possible. They explain that helping women learn to negotiate both at work and at home — and teaching society to accept women’s need and right to negotiate — will make our world a better, healthier place.

Why We Like This Book

Women Don’t Ask provides a compelling look at society’s stereotypes and assumptions about women and how the genders negotiate differently. By focusing on insightful studies of the problem and providing examples of how many companies were able to change the ways they do business and benefit from their changes, the authors offer hope for women and better ideas for success to the companies that take their concerns and advice to heart.~

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.