On “Women’s Work” and Negotiation

Men don’t want women’s jobs, and women know that advocating for their own worth isn’t always worth it.

Photo credit: Sh4rp_i, CC BY 2.0.

There are two stories I want to look at today, and you’ll see pretty quickly how they’re related:

Why Men Don’t Want the Jobs Done Mostly by Women

The jobs that have been disappearing, like machine operator, are predominantly those that men do. The occupations that are growing, like health aide, employ mostly women.

One solution is for the men who have lost jobs in factories to become health aides. But while more than a fifth of American men aren’t working, they aren’t running to these new service-sector jobs. Why? They require very different skills, and pay a lot less.

They’re also seen as women’s work, which has always been devalued in the American labor market.

When It’s Not Worth it to Negoatiate

Women do tend to negotiate less than men do, and some researchers suggest that’s because they justifiably fear they’ll violate societal norms of demure, communal female behavior — and be punished for it. (As one study depressingly found, “Perceptions of niceness and demandingness explained resistance to female negotiators.”) So how should women proceed? In a new paper in NBER, three economics and management researchers find that advising women to “always negotiate” might not be in their best interest — because, it seems, women seem to already know when negotiations won’t work out in their favor.

So, while acknowledging that gender is not actually a binary: Men don’t want certain types of jobs both because they’re seen as “women’s work” and because they don’t pay very well. Women, who take these jobs, know in advance that negotiating wages will hurt more than help them—asking for more money might signal that they’ll be a high-maintenance or problem employee in the future, for example.

And, of course, some types of service jobs demand that you agree to the hourly wage as a condition of submitting your online application.

Even in non-service jobs, women appear to have an understanding of when negotiating is appropriate and when it is not. I don’t want to go into the details of how I approach different types of negotiations with clients, but it has to do with tenure, how much value I’ve added, how long it’s been since a rate increase, etc. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense for me to re-negotiate a rate, even though it’s the end of the year and I’ve told myself I’m “supposed” to.

And then we get stories like the one in today’s Ask A Manager:

employers say they appreciate that I tried to negotiate salary, but they won’t budge – Ask a Manager

What is up? Is it common now for an employer’s first offer to be final offer? Is “appreciating the negotiation that will serve well in the position” a throw-away line from managers stonewalling applicants on negotiation? If they think it is a valuable skill, why aren’t they persuaded to respond to it? Are they not taking me seriously for some reason? For what it’s worth, I am a young-looking mid-30s woman with excellent credentials in a highly skilled field.

Although Alison Green advises the LW not to let these experiences keep her from negotiating in the future, the commenters immediately wonder if “being a woman” has something to do with the LW’s lack of negotiation success.

You can also see how a person like the LW might eventually decide to skip the negotiation process because she knows that it won’t benefit her and might hurt her career.

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