The last few months have been trying for Maureen Park, the managing director of a small portfolio management firm. The firm's parent company, a large financial services concern, was performing below forecasts, and moral among Park's understaffed, overworked team of research analysts was low.
To make matters worse, Park's two best analysts both requested significant raises after their annual reviews. Both women expressed their belief that they were earning substantially less than analysts at comparable firms and probably less than lower—achieving members of their firm—including a male colleague who had been lured away from a competitor.
Park went to bat for her star performers, though management had instructed her to offer only cost-of-living raises. To her surprise, her superiors agreed to offer better incentives to both analysts. Reflecting on her triumph, Park realized with bitter irony that three of her seven direct reports would make more than she would in the coming year; she herself had accepted a small cost-of-living raise without question. If getting a raise was so easy, why hadn't she made a case for herself? Is it possible that her gender somehow influenced how Park negotiated for herself and others?
Businesspeople often ask us whether men or women are better negotiators. According to our research, gender is not a reliable predictor of negotiation performance; neither women nor men perform better or worse across all negotiations. However, certain types of negotiation can set the stage for differences in outcomes negotiated by men and by women, particularly when (1) the opportunities and limits of negotiation are unclear; and (2) situational cues in these ambiguous situations trigger different behaviors by men and women.
These differences can create huge inequities over time. Awareness of the factors that create gender-related advantages and disadvantages can help you mitigate their consequences-and promote a more egalitarian workplace.