LINDA BABCOCK, a Carnegie Mellon economist and co-author of the new book Women Don't Ask: Gender and the Negotiation Divide (Princeton University Press), says the first step women need to take to get what they want is simple: Ask for it.

Corporate Meetings & Incentives: Women make up 76 percent of Meeting Professionals International's membership, yet just 9 percent of those women hold leadership positions, compared to 30 percent of male MPI members. And industry salary surveys consistently place women much lower on the pay scale than men in equivalent positions. Why?

Babcock: Women think that if you work hard and accomplish much, bosses will reward you appropriately. But why would a company offer more money when it's not asked for? Success is not going to just come to you — you have to go out and get it for yourself. At Carnegie Mellon, our research that found that male college graduates were offered salaries that were $4,000 higher than the female graduates — just because the men asked for more and the women didn't.

CMI: But female meeting planners negotiate for a living — it's a big part of the job, and they're good at it.

Babcock: Women can be tough negotiators for their organizations, but they're not as good at asking for what they want when it comes to their own career development. Negotiating on their own behalf causes a lot of anxiety for women, which causes them to set their goals low and to shoot only at safe targets. Also, our research found that women just entering the work force have the same mind-set, and face the same issues, as women in their 40s and older.

Women also negotiate complex issues really well because there's a lot of back-and-forth, and women are good at figuring out what's important to each person. When it's about a single issue, such as money, the negotiation becomes more competitive and difficult.

CMI: What can women do to increase their salaries and their standing with their employers?

Babcock: Some just find another job or start their own companies, but those are Band-Aids. One way women can address the underlying problem is to understand that the world — including their work environment — is a negotiable place. Identify what you want, then ask for it. While people we interviewed didn't get everything they wanted, they were surprised at how much they could get just by asking.

Other strategies that work well for women are researching what others in comparable positions make, so they know what's reasonable to ask for; role-playing the negotiation with a friend; and negotiating small things before taking on something that could make or break your world. It also helps to go into the negotiation with another job offer in hand, but only if you're serious about the other job. If your employer doesn't think you're going to leave, they have little incentive to give you what you want.

CMI: So you're saying that women should negotiate more like men?

Babcock: Unfortunately, we still live in an imperfect world rife with double standards. The reality is that women will still get pushback if they ask for what they want in too aggressive a way. Do it in a way that shows you respect and care about the other person, and that you understand his or her issues, rather than trying to steamroll to get what you want.

It helps if you can separate the process from the goal: What you ask for can be very difficult, but you don't have to ask for it in a super-competitive way.

It's very similar to negotiating with a hotel, really. 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. We can gain a lot by trading those things. We can be cooperative and still get what we want. It's not about being nice; it's about getting what you want.

Did You Know?

  • When asked to pick metaphors for negotiations, men picked “winning a ballgame” and a “wrestling match,” while women picked “going to the dentist.”

  • Women are more pessimistic about the rewards of negotiation, and so come away with less — on average, 30 percent less — than men.

  • Women who consistently negotiate their salary increases earn $1 million more during their careers than women who don't.

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