I read about a recent study in the Washington Post a few months ago that connected the 33% average difference in pay between men and women to the simple idea that women do not ask for as much money as their male counterparts during salary negotiation.

In a simple experiment, men and women were told that they could earn between $3 and $10 for playing Boggle. When, at the end of the game, everyone was offered $3 and asked if that was sufficient, eight times more men than women asked for more money. Even when the participants were told beforehand that their payment was negotiable, significantly more men spoke up than women.

The finds are nothing less than compelling, and if my anecdotal experiences on the subway each morning hold any water, I’m going to have to nod my head knowingly. A woman gets on a crowded subway car and squeezes into a middle seat, crossing her legs and hunching forward. A man gets on and sits down after her. He immediately spreads his legs, opens a huge New York Times, and leans back. Is it wrong that the man gets to be more comfortable because he claims his own space? Would it be a better world if both genders acted in the generally female way or in the generally male way?

Today I was told that my job would change somewhat drastically at the end of the year due to a company realignment (or whatever silly office euphemism they have decided upon). The list of books I help market will double and I will be the assistant to two people instead of one. And, as you might guess, my pay will stay exactly the same.

When I complained about it to Ben, he immediately, naturally, asked if I was going to ask for some sort of compensation for the drastic change in my workload. Especially having somewhat recently read the Washington Post article on the subject within the week, I was awed that the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. In fact, when he mentioned it, I had the following lip-biting thoughts:

1) I didn’t want a raise unless every other assistant in my situation got one.
2) I shouldn’t make a fuss, especially during the realignment (or whatever).
3) I would look like a jerk – nay, a bitch! — for even asking .
4) They would probably say no.

It reminds me of my Dad’s continuous advice to me about anything to do with negotiation: Make them say no. It’s a good rule, perhaps not for dating or other social interactions, but for business-type things.

What’s the harm in asking? The best outcome would be getting something, while the worst outcome would be them saying sorry and everyone moving on. I use the rule a lot when looking for freelance work (the ideal career for people who love asking for things and getting rejected) but it’s hard to implement in other parts of my life.

Why do I (and perhaps other women) hate to make people say no? I think it has something to do with the four fears I listed above. I don’t want to be a bother. I don’t want attention drawn to me. I want to seem fair-minded and un-greedy. I don’t, under any circumstances, want someone to think I’m a bitch.

Now, I’m not saying that the correct way for everyone to ride the subway is with their legs spread, taking whatever square inch of space they can aggressively conquer. But I also don’t think that we should accept whatever we’re given and say “thanks so much!” even if we’re unhappy with it (whether you’re a man or a woman). As with all things, there is probably a happy place somewhere between the two extremes. Either way, I’m going to make a conscious effort to ask for what I think I deserve until someone says no.

Read the original Washington Post article here.

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