Over the years, the authors have carried out various studies and surveys on women’s negotiating styles and skills, and the results showed that women often avoid negotiating, or asking for more than what they were offered. What’s more, this is not just a generational problem, as younger women struggle to ask just as much as older women do.
The studies showed that women are 45% more likely than men to believe that there is little they can do to change their environment, and so they assume that there is not much point in asking for what they want. This is confirmed by many stories the authors have heard over the years from women who said that they did not realise that they could change a personal or professional situation if only they asked.
Several psychologists also observed a link with what is known as the ‘locus of control’. People who have an internal locus of control know that they are in control of their own lives, so they are naturally more likely to try and satisfy their interests, to look for information in their environment that can help them achieve their goals, and to be more assertive with other people. Those who believe they have an external locus of control, on the other hand, think that their fate is determined by external factors, that life simply happens to them, and that they have very little influence over what happens.
In the studies, many more women than men believed they had an external locus of control, which means that women are more likely to assume that their circumstances are controlled by other people. Men, on the other hand, usually believe that their own actions and choices influence their circumstances and opportunities. These studies have been repeated in many countries around the world and the results have been similar everywhere, even among women in important professional positions, who should find it easier to believe that they are in control.
Perhaps, this result should not come as too much of a surprise, though. After all, women’s lives have always been controlled by external factors, and primarily by men. Women have been denied access to education, to the vote, to assets, and even to control over their own bodies. The impact of this legacy is enormous, and it still affects women today, in their private lives, at school, and at work.
Children are known for their observation skills, and they study the different ways in which men and women behave, the different roles they play in society, and their different preferences and abilities. From their earliest years, children’s minds develop what is known as a ‘gender schema’, which helps them define a person’s sex based on a mental catalogue of physical attributes, tastes, interests, skills, and behaviours. It does not take much at all to influence this schema, and even just seeing a man change a light bulb and a woman serve dinner, for example, is enough to make an impact. As they grow up, children adapt their behaviour to their gender schema. Boys develop the belief that they are, or should be, in control and act accordingly, expressing their needs loudly and clearly and looking for ways to get what they want. Girls, on the other hand, learn that they are not in control of their lives, so they do not act as if they were.
Yet there are things we can do to help women recognise the opportunities they have to take control of their lives. Parents can give their daughters tasks that develop their independence, and should try to resist the temptation to protect them much more than they would their sons. In everyday life, they should make it clear that women are perfectly capable of earning and spending money, driving a car, changing a light bulb, and taking control of their own and their family’s lives. In the workplace, women should be encouraged not to simply accept the status quo, because the world is often much more negotiable than it seems.
Managers should always ensure that male and female employees are treated equally and have access to the same opportunities. One way of doing this is to focus on what men are asking for and then make the same concessions to women who do not know how to ask for what they need. Otherwise, any attempt at fair treatment will fail, because men will always end up with more resources and opportunities simply because they ask more often.