A billion dollar company offered me a non-paid internship after selectively deciding who deserves a salary and who does not. I am a nice girl, but you can bet I "asked". Am I an outlier in my gender? According to the Harvard Business Review's "Nice Girls Don't Ask", I unfortunately am.
The female gender is one that brings forth many complexities. With the many cultural impacts and diversification of people in our society, as well as, the evolving system of beliefs and education with which women are raised have become questionable. The many contradictions [in the way we raise girls] pose a confusing and detrimental impact to not only the workforce but to the community. Women are taught to be nice and compassionate. They are taught to epitomize pureness to a high degree. However, they are also taught to be aggressive in the workplace and stand firm against ideas of being “too bossy” when reprimanded for being assertive. Linda Babcock’s “Nice Girls Don't Ask” proposes a few reasons for why women negotiate less than men yet fails to explicitly mention that the two paradoxical ideas are difficult to grasp and are a large reason for why girls do not ask. I propose other solutions. If we want to change the way women define themselves, why don't we first find a consensus on the role of women both generally and in the workplace? Henry Mintzberg’s plural and private sectors are indirectly involved in the issue as are his ideas on leadership.
The article points out men and women are known to not be equal in the workplace, even at this point in time. One primary reason is because women tend to not ask for what they deserve, whereas men do; a reason is thought to be women's socialization from an early age and how girls are taught to not promote their self-interests.
I can agree. While the arguments made are sound, what Babcock and her colleagues fail to address explicitly is how confusing it is for young women to be socialized in such a way, then come to find out that they should be promoting their self-interests and to the standards of men’s. Should we then tell managers to instruct females as to how to go about negotiations in the workplace? The article thinks so - as do I - but that should not be the only solution. Women are bombarded with ideas on feminism and its definition all of the time. For instance, a friend of mine once posted a video on eight-year-old girls promoting feminism through shock value on Facebook: the slogan; “Fuck Bombs for Feminism”. Although I am all for feminism, I couldn’t agree with having eight-year-olds say “fuck” a million times in a video to promote feminism because in my mind – it is neither classy or ladylike (or gentlemanly). For either gender, the words are not appropriate or polite. The point is, women cannot agree on how to go about changing the world on gender inequality because women and the world have not come to an agreement on a woman’s role or character. Men’s role and character has been defined since probably the beginning of time. Men are strong and assertive while women are, at this point, a question mark.
How can we, as a society (both men and women) rectify the problem?
After having read Mintzberg’s “Rebalancing Society”, I think society is not balanced. “Nice Girls Don’t Ask” mentions one pillar – the private sector. While managers should be helping women’s negotiating skills, it is first the community or the plural sector’s job to instill a uniformed opinion on how women should act in the workplace and in society. By doing this, perhaps the idea that an assertive woman is the same as a bitchy or pushy girl could disappear. I think a polite girl, a nice girl and a good girl can have the strength to be gentle at times yet be assertive and promote her self-interests when need be. I think I am that girl.
I negotiate and do not take no for an answer. I have been called bitchy and pushy at times yet my gentleness and politeness in other aspects of my life – such as in my social life – put those who call me those names to shame. The second part to my solution is not only to have managers instruct women employees on how to negotiate and ask for what they need but to also include men in the education progress. While “Nice Girls Don’t Ask” suggests great solutions as to how to battle income inequality between the sexes in the workplace, only women were addressed. What about men? While the article mentions comparison of both sexes, men are not directly targeted. Male employees should also be instructed as to how to perceive assertive women by managers. Managers should recognize that women are undergoing a change in both the plural and private sectors and while their view on feminism may be confusing at times, it is the same for men. Men should be included in the equation because society as a whole suffers when half of the population is failing at meeting its needs.
The time I said "no" to a billion dollar company
My first summer as a university undergraduate student, I was offered a position at a billion dollar company. I was directly referred to a top executive not due to familial connections but through key networking. Through earned work, I got to the executive's office and spoke of my desire to work for the company as an intern. We left the details for later that month due to my exams. When I had finished my first year, I was directed to two directors who were going to give me the details regarding the position. I was told the company usually offered paid internships unless it was for program credit. I also knew of a few classmates who had received paid internships at this company. With such knowledge, I went in with the intention of getting paid. I was not doing this for program credit or co-op. After having gone in several times to the head office, the directors communicated by e-mail that I would work from 8am-5pm every day for 4 months and it would be an unpaid position. They also said "Dear Catherine"...my name is Kathleen? (Yes, you can laugh). I couldn't understand how they could not pay me as a business intern when the company had received millions of dollars from the government that year - just for the department I had been referred to. I negotiated...and declined the offer in a polite yet assertive way when no response followed mine. When I think about how I went about the situation, I do not regret having negotiated nor do I regret having declined the offer. I know exactly what I deserve and what I need. If I wanted to volunteer, I would do it elsewhere like at a non-profit organization to help fund children's education in a third world country. However, with the experience and expertise I have in various fields, I cannot willingly put value into a company without getting something back in return when that company is a for-profit organization with billions of dollars in revenue. It is comical to me that one of my male classmates one said "we are in no position to negotiate as young people looking for work". (Funny enough, I know he was one of the highest paid marketing interns in our first year of university). While he probably only gave his opinion to get participation points, I, as a woman and as a "nice girl" who does ask, only hoped both male and females took his opinion with a grain a salt. According to the “Nice Girls Don’t Ask” article, I probably am an outlier in my gender...but there is a time to negotiate no matter what your age or your gender. Your skills, expertise in certain fields and your needs are important drivers in negotiation. I proudly say this to both males and females.
Do men and women have different incentives? Do these lead men to negotiate more?
Honesty is discussed in both “The Dishonesty of Honest People” by Mazar and “Freakonomics” by Levitt & Dubner. In the latter, incentives are defined using economics and are broken down into three distinct categories comparable to the three pillars mentioned in “Rebalancing Society”: economic, social and morale. The social aspect is an important one, especially in the workplace even though the economic incentives are important, as well. What drove me to negotiate were my economic incentive, as well as, my social incentive. I wanted a summer job and therefore was not going to accept an offer of no pay when I needed and thought I deserved to get paid. I also knew I wanted to feel valued at my job. When someone decides to invest their time and money in me, that means they respect me and therefore I feel like I have a responsibility to work harder. When the company decided to offer me an unpaid internship when the majority of internships are paid, I felt unvalued and therefore felt the need to negotiate. If people get what they settle for, it would be interesting to evaluate the incentives of men vs. women in the workplace, in order to understand the discrepancy to a greater degree. Perhaps, incentives will prove to be different and be another reason for why women negotiate less than men. This would be a hypothesis to develop.
Women and men are quite different when it comes to negotiating in the workplace. We should aim to rebalance society by looking at the plural sector first to redefine the role women should be taking in the community followed by their behaviour in the private sector. Managers should equally train women and men, in order to decrease income inequality among the sexes in the workplace, as well. Finally assessing economic, social and morale incentives would be a worthy proposal to ponder on, in order to find another potential reason for why women negotiate less than men.
Written by Kathleen Garcia-Manjarres