The New Yorker:
This spring, an aspiring professor—W, as she’s chosen to call herself in a blog post about the experience—attempted to negotiate her tenure-track job offer with the Nazareth College philosophy department. She wanted a slightly higher salary than the starting offer, paid maternity leave for one semester, a pre-tenure sabbatical, a cap on the number of new classes that she would teach each semester, and a deferred starting date. “I know that some of these might be easier to grant than others,” she acknowledged in her e-mail. “Let me know what you think.”
Nazareth didn’t hesitate to do just that: W wrote that the college promptly let her know that she was no longer welcome. “The institution has decided to withdraw its offer of employment to you,” the terse reply concluded. “We wish you the best in finding a suitable position.”
What had W done wrong? Perhaps nothing, at least according to the advice to “lean in” that women have become accustomed to hearing. “This is how I thought negotiating worked,” W wrote. “I just thought there was no harm in asking.” (It’s entirely possible that there were factors at play not covered in the leaked correspondence—a Nazareth representative told me that the college was unable to comment on a personnel issue.)
Hannah Riley Bowles, a senior lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the director of the Women and Power program, has been studying gender effects on negotiation through laboratory studies, case studies, and extensive interviews with executives and employees in diverse fields. She’s repeatedly found evidence that our implicit gender perceptions mean that the advice that women stand up for themselves and assert their position strongly in negotiations may not have the intended effect. It may even backfire.
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