Friday, July 11, 2008


Another of the interesting topics at the women in theory workshop was the issue that women are less likely than men to negotiate (for pay raises, for work opportunities, for exactly what they want at a restaurant, for everything). Sara Laschever, one of the authors of Women Don't Ask, gave a very entertaining and convincing talk on this issue. I say convincing, because one of her main goals seemed to be to convince all of us that it's worth the momentary awkwardness in order to improve your pay and career down the line. The main idea here, of course, is that if you don't negotiate for a higher salary at the beginning of your career, then over time this small amount difference between what you settled for and what you could have negotiated will grow to a significant amount due to percent increase raises, etc. In addition, not negotiating for career opportunities will set you back in terms of experience as well. I was definitely convinced. And despite the studies that have shown that women face a social cost when negotiating (Sara's co-author, Linda Babcock, is referenced frequently), Sara argued that negotiating is still a net benefit. She also argued that everything is negotiable.

It's this last point that I've been thinking about lately. Sara suggested that women should go to the "negotiation gym." Get a "gym" buddy and trade stories of little negotiation triumphs in everyday life. For example, I could negotiate with the kids who swim in the pool I like to go to so that I could have a portion of the pool to do laps in and they would try to stay on their side while playing Marco Polo. I must admit that I'm one of the (apparently few?) women who really enjoy haggling in marketplaces (no, not in the US), so viewing "scary" negotiation like this has a certain appeal. But I also wonder, is everything really negotiable?

Consider grad school. You apply, you (hopefully) get in, and you get your offer(s). These are (sort of) negotiable, especially if you have multiple offers. But what about once you're there? You receive a semesterly/ yearly update to your offer - often you find out what it is when you go to sign it. This seems non-negotiable. But is it? (Note: this is actually a moot point for me since I'm on a wonderful fellowship, but sadly this will run out someday and anyway I'm curious.)


Suresh said...

As far as grad student negotiating goes, I doubt there's much you can do in terms of negotiating the bottom line salaries, because at most places, these numbers are fixed by seniority within the program, and even go into grant numbers, and so aren't really flexible.

Of course, there are "softer" things to negotiate (and it might not even feel like an explicit negotiation, but it is): travel to conferences, office choice, things to work on, or NOT work on (there was an interesting study of Fermilab that suggested that women often get sucked into more 'system maintainence' kinds of research that isn't as prestigious/publishable as the 'new science' kind of research).

Anonymous said...

I don't think grad students can negotiate much, if anything. When you are offered a asst. prof. position, there is much more you can negotiate, especially if you have competing offers. Once you have a job in academia, it is still difficult to negotiate raises without having competing offers.