“Women have to take control of their careers. Success is not going to come to you. You've got to go after it,” says Carnegie Mellon economist Linda Babcock. She co-authored the recently published book Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide with freelance writer Sara Laschever. The book should be a hot read for women meeting planners. Women predominate in the field, yet they are paid significantly less than their male peers. (See “Breaking Through Is Hard to Do,” page 16, and the related salary survey analysis, “Call It a Chasm,” page 21, in the August issue of AM.)

Babcock's book explores gender differences in negotiating styles, but also focuses on whether women negotiate as much as men to begin with, especially when it comes to negotiating something for themselves. She cites one piece of the research outlined in the book that showed male college graduates being offered salaries that were $4,000 higher than the women — just because they asked for more and the women didn't.

And there are consequences to not asking: Women who see equally or less-qualified colleagues moving ahead of them get discouraged. They may quit, form their own businesses, or just find another job. “But those are just Band-Aids,” Babcock adds. “What we need to change is the underlying problem, not the symptoms.”

Some suggestions she offers:

  • Know that the world is a negotiable place — the status quo can change. Just identify what you want, then ask for it. “A lot of people we interviewed early on said that just this alone turned on a light bulb for them,” says Babcock. “While they didn't always get everything they wanted, they were surprised at how much they could get just by asking.”

  • Search the Internet, your associations, trade journals, and other resources for what others in comparable jobs make. Find out what benefits they get, what kinds of job titles they have, and what their training budgets are. And don't limit yourself to asking your network of women; since women still are making only 76 cents for every man's dollar, they're still undervalued and underpaid.

  • Up your bargaining power by having another job offer in hand, but only if you're willing to make the leap should negotiations falter. “If your employer doesn't think you're going to leave, they have little incentive to give you what you want.”

  • Be nice, but not too nice. “It's too bad that that's the advice we have to give, but the reality is women will still get pushback if they ask for what they want in too aggressive a way,” Babcock says. “Do it in a way that shows you respect and care about the other person and that you understand their issues.” But don't be too nice. You're only undermining yourself by saying something like, “I know the budget is tight and the economy doesn't look like it's going to get any better, but could you see your way clear to giving me a raise?” because that gives the other side an easy out.

  • Role play the negotiation with a friend. “Women face an enormous amount of anxiety about the negotiating process, especially when it comes to negotiating for themselves,” says Babcock. “Role playing allows you to think of what you want to say and how you're going to say it — and lets you anticipate your bosses reaction and form a response.”

  • Start small. “Go into a store and ask for a price reduction on a sweater, or something else that won't make or break your world. Make negotiating on your own behalf part of your routine.”

  • Realize that negotiation doesn't have to harm relationships if you do it in a respectful way. Think about why it would be hard for the other side to give you what you want, then find ways to counteract it.

  • If you're a manager, watch for unintended bias in your promotion and hiring practices. Recognize that men and women ask in different ways. Pay attention to the differences to make sure you're using your human resources most effectively.

Babcock says that negotiating doesn't have to be an ordeal. “There are things you can do for me that would be easy for you, and things I can do for you that would be easy for me,” she says. “We can gain a lot by trading those things.” She eschews the “Conan the Negotiator” tactics touted by people like Start with No author Jim Camp.

“We can be cooperative and still get what we want,” Babcock adds. “It's not about being nice. It's about getting what you want.”