Ever since Sheryl Sandberg released her book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, the term “lean in” has become a cultural touchstone and a feminist mantra for the tech age. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want at work, take opportunities as they come to you even if you don’t feel qualified for them, and don’t step out of the workplace for family, Sandberg advises.
New studies show, though, that women can and are being penalized for taking Sandberg’s advice and leaning in. A recent New Yorker article titled “Lean Out: The Dangers for Women Who Negotiate,” details the results of four studies by Hannah Riley Bowles, a senior lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the director of Harvard’s Women and Power program, and researchers from Carnegie Mellon, and the results aren’t exactly positive.
The studies show that both men and women have penalized women who negotiated their salaries more than men. And the findings do a lot to refute the current general consensus that women are earning less than men just because they aren’t asking for higher salaries.
To bring the point home, the piece details the experience of a professor who attempted to negotiate a job offer with a college asking for a higher salary than she was offered, paid maternity leave, a pre-tenure sabbatical, a cap on the number of new classes that she would teach each semester, and a deferred starting date. Just for asking, the college rescinded her offer. So much for leaning in.
Why exactly are women being penalized, just for negotiating? Researchers at Rutgers found that when women move along in the hiring process the focus shifts away from qualifications and becomes more about social skills, something that doesn’t happen for men.
Despite these new findings, experts say women shouldn’t give up and forgo negotiating. The more women push for what they want, the more perceptions will change, and the more it will considered the norm. Bowles advises women to be aware of the impact that negotiating can have, and to play into it.
“We’ve found that you need to offer an explanation for your demands that gives a legitimate reason that the other side finds persuasive,” she says. “You need to signal concern for the broader organization: ‘It’s not just good for me; it’s good for you.'”
In other words, consider the company culture, be tactful with your requests, and above all else, remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day.