Negotiation & Identity

Your social context for negotiation will depend upon a variety of factors. This is where you may ask yourself where you are at this stage in your career journey. How do your identities, values, interests, skills, and other aspects of your background intersect with the negotiation process? All of these components are worth considering because they will inform your approach to the process. Depending on your personal situation, some components may pose more questions for you than others.

Career Education has received many inquiries about women and negotiation. Therefore, the following paragraphs will discuss women and negotiation in more detail. You can also find our Top 8 Tips for Negotiating Your Salary as a Woman in our 2018 Buzzfeed article. You may also wish to review our Negotiation Overview resource. Regardless of your gender identity, hopefully the next few sections will provide a frame through which you could assess how your various identities, values, interests, skills, and other components of your background interplay with the negotiation process.  


Gender and Negotiation

It is not surprising that Wellesley students and alumnae would ask about negotiation as it relates to gender. After all, if one were to search online for articles on this issue, they would come across numerous articles such as the following:

If you identify as a woman, it could feel like you have much to digest in these titles alone. After all, the research highlights how women are perceived and treated differently than men in negotiation. Therefore, experts recommend that women adapt their negotiation strategies with those differences in mind.

The mere suggestion that adjusting their negotiation style could be unsettling to some women. Hannah Riley Bowles, Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School, researches gender in negotiation and the attainment of leadership positions. In terms of suggesting alternative strategies to women, Bowles acknowledges in her article Why Women Don’t Negotiate Their Job Offers, “It makes them feel like they are bending to unjust stereotypes or simply being inauthentic. I sympathize with that reaction … But, every movement needs its idealists and pragmatists, and I am playing the pragmatist here.”

Joan C. Williams is the co-author of What Works for Women at Work and serves as a Distinguished Professor of Law and the Founding Director of WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of Law. The center seeks to advance gender and racial equality in the workplace and higher education. In the article Moving Past Gender Barriers to Negotiate a Raise, Williams is quoted as stating, ‘These stereotypes will hold us back, so we might as well use them to move forward.’

While experts agree that gender stereotypes should not exist, they offer the following strategies for women to mitigate the effects of these stereotypes during negotiation.




Confidence is the foundation of any negotiation strategy you choose. You need it in order to present yourself well in the process.

There are questions about the extent to which women’s success in negotiation is tied to their confidence. In Bowles’ article Why Women Don’t Negotiate Their Job Offers, one study of graduating MBA students found that half of of men negotiated their job offers whereas only one eighth of women did so. Similar results have been replicated in other studies. As researchers have delved into the question of why this happens, they have found that it has more to do with how women are treated than their confidence or skills in negotiation. Bowles argues that women’s reticence is based on an accurate read of the social environment: women feel less confident because they are guessing correctly that in negotiation there is a higher social cost for them than there is for men.

What do you do with this information? Experts could tell you, “Be confident,” all day long, but there clearly needs to be more direction than that. If you focus on the following advice on listening, I-We strategy, other-advocacy, and practice, you will find it easier to be more confident as you advance in your career journey.  



In negotiation, you not only have to be skilled in speaking but also in listening. Listening is crucial to building relationships, which is essential to effective negotiation.

In society, there has been this idea that being aggressive and dominating in a conversation is key to successful negotiation. In the article Women and Negotiation: Are There Really Gender Differences?, leaders on a panel at the Wharton Women in Business conference felt that this attitude has shifted. With an increased emphasis on building long-term professional relationships and a collaborative work atmosphere, they have found there to be a stronger priority on listening in negotiation.

In fact, listening is integral to work negotiations that go beyond the job offer. Research shows that the most effective salespeople only talk about 30% of the time when meeting with a client. The remainder of the time is spent listening and asking questions. For this reason, Rachel Krol, Lecturer in Wharton Legal Studies and Business Ethics Department, believes that listening is a source of strength in negotiation.         


The I-We Strategy and Other-Advocacy

Explain to your negotiating counterpart how your request for a higher salary or more benefits would enable you to benefit others whether it be your team, department, clients, or family.

‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get,’ states Holly Schroth, Senior Lecturer in the University of California--Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, in ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Get’: How to Fix the Gender Gap in Salary Negotiations, Schroth finds that women generally do not ask for money, but there is one exception: women strongly advocate for their subordinates.

Schroth’s findings tie into a greater theme found in research. According to both Bowles and Adrian Furnham, Professor of Psychology at at University College London and Norwegian Business School, women face less backlash when they negotiate on behalf of others whether they be family, clients, or team members. Basically, women are respected more when they practice other-advocacy rather than self-advocacy.    

How do you apply this knowledge? Bowles recommends using the “I-We” strategy.

  • Explain to your negotiating counterpart why it is legitimate for you to be negotiating from their perspective. (This is why listening is essential as mentioned in the previous section.)
  • Emphasize to your negotiating counterpart that you care about organizational relationships. Again, this is highlighting your focus on other-advocacy. In the words of Sheryl Sandberg, ‘think personally, act communally.’    

Since other-advocacy is a core component of negotiating success for women, Professor Catherine Tinsley and her colleagues at George Washington University offer additional evidence-based tips:

  • If you want a promotion, bonus, or salary increase, discuss your request in relation to your contribution to your department or team.
  • HIghlight your multiple roles as an employee, manager, community supporter, etc.
  • Think about the negotiation process as one that benefits the social group. It supports gender equity for all.     

The last tip is crucial because it is a reminder of how your negotiation efforts in conjunction with others’ efforts can shift the culture and expectations of an organization, industry, and even a workforce.   



Regardless of which negotiation strategy you select, practice leads to improvement. Find ways to make negotiation a more regular part of your life.

Increasing your confidence and skills in negotiation is not a one-time event but a lifelong process. After all, you likely will have multiple jobs and careers throughout your life. For this reason, it is vital to practice negotiating.

  • Role Playing.
    In her article Moving Past Gender Barriers to Negotiate a Raise, Tara Siegel Bernard recommends role-playing with a friend or partner. You could read all the advice offered by experts, but role-playing provides a safe space for experimenting with your approach.

  • Everyday Negotiating.
    In the article Women and Negotiation: Are There Really Gender Differences?, Beth Ann Day, Managing Director and Chief Talent Officer at AllianceBernstein, and Wellesley alumna Fatimah Gilliam, Founder and CEO of The Azara Group, offer additional advice for practice. Day states, ‘It makes me nuts when I hear someone like a female Wharton MBA say they are not good at negotiation or public speaking. Well, you don’t have to really be that good; you just have to do it.’ Both Day and Gilliam recommend that you practice negotiation in everyday life. For example, it could entail returning a pair of jeans after the 30-day return period has expired or asking for a better hotel room when traveling. Practice will build both your experience and confidence when initiating any type of negotiation process.

Regardless of which strategies you select, practice is foundational for progress and success in your future negotiations--whether they be for your next job offer, raise, promotion, or hotel room on a business trip.