The Gender Agenda. Does negotiating play a part?

Published: Sep 08 , 2016
Author: Annabel Shorter

The subject of the Gender Pay gap entered the news again recently following a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. It found that although down from previous levels of 23% and 28% in 2003 and 1993 respectively, differentials remain stubbornly large at 18% and reach a frankly absurd level of 33% 12 years after the birth of a women’s first child.

I was particularly interested in the fact that for women with higher levels of education, A-levels or graduates, the gap had remained as wide as 20 years ago.

The IFS found that while women make up 73% of the workforce on entry, by the time you reach Senior Management level this is reduced to 42% and as low as 32% at Director level. To fan the flames of a real bias it found that male managers are 40% more likely to be promoted than their female counterparts.

All of this makes sombre reading if like me you are blessed to be a woman! It should also cause some concern for either sex as all reports find that an organisation with an emphasis on diversity is likely to “deliver better financial results, better culture and better decision making”. Better together, were have I heard that before.

Enough statistics, I don’t think this tells us much that we don’t already know. I started my career as a Graduate Sales trainee in the oil business. I joined a field force of around 64 people – 61 men and 3 new women. In my first week in the field a phone call was made to Head Office by our customers to express their disgust at the downgrading of the field staff. They claimed we were “going to the dogs”. Hard to believe that within my working life such attitudes could be prevalent.

Despite this I have wandered through my career without giving too much thought to the matter really. As little as eighteen months ago I was asked to speak at a women only event and made no acknowledgement of a gender difference in the world of negotiation.

But, something is shifting. It seems to me that there is a groundswell of activity in a number of areas to promote and improve the skills of women, it is firmly on the agenda and we are drawn to do the same.

I am not going to suggest for one minute that the answer to the problem is as simple as improving your negotiating skills. There are many complex issues in play here.

The fact is that if you want something, a salary, a promotion, more holiday, less overtime, etc., etc. then being a better negotiator is a fundamental part of your process of getting it. I teach men and women in equal amounts. I see good ones and bad ones in equal measure. What is interesting is that a lot of the skills that we believe make a good negotiator are often more in line with traditional female attributes – better listeners, less combative, less ego, more creative.  This doesn’t stop them falling into all the same traps and bad habits as their male colleagues and also doesn’t stop them being as formidable.

My colleague Debbie Spurgeon and I are heading up a project within Scotwork to understand more about the gender difference in the sphere of negotiating and where we can do more to work with women in all positions to improve their skills and approach. Is there is an issue at all? Is gender at its route? Is there a generational shift? What can we do about it?

Negotiating effectively is a skill we use almost every day and yet it still fills most of us with some degree of trepidation. Indeed, spare a thought for Debbie and I who have to negotiate our annual pay review with a negotiating skills consultancy!!

We would like to hear from both sexes on their views on this subject. We promise to get back to you with our findings when we have them.

Annabel Shorter 


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