Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide
By Dr. Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever

Buy it here (new edition has different cover)

Note: Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever have written a new book, Ask for It, focusing on practical, hands-on advice on negotiating for women. I highly recommend it. If you have to choose only one book, most people should buy Ask for It. Happy negotiating!

This book changed my life and the lives of many women I know. In fact, it's so good that I started the Valerie Aurora Women in Computing Book Scholarship. After 3 years, 45 gift certificates, and 10 or so copies bought outright, I'm closing down the scholarship, partly because the second edition is only $11.20 on Amazon. (Buy it! It's a deal!) Congratulations to all the women who asked!

"Women Don't Ask" is a thorough and fascinating examination of how and why women fear negotiation - e.g., asking for a raise - and how this affects their success and happiness in both their professional and personal lives. This book has its roots in an incident when one of the authors was director of the Ph.D. program at her school. A group of female graduate students pointed out that the male graduate students were getting better teaching assignments and wanted to know why. The person who made the assignments said, simply, "I try to find teaching opportunities for any student who approaches me [...] More men ask. The women just don't ask." This suggested a startling idea: maybe women don't get as much in life as men partly because they don't ask for it. After all, women's salaries have leveled off at about 75% of men's in western countries for about two decades now, after significant improvement during the 60's and 70's.

The authors assemble a stunning array of evidence showing that women indeed don't ask and consequently get less, and review a wide variety of contributing causes. Among the causes are women's low sense of self-worth and entitlement, social pressure for women to be more altruistic and outward-directed, and fear of harming relationships by asking for too much. Most troubling is the feedback effect: studies show that both men and women will offer women less, presumably because past experience has shown they are more likely to accept less than men.

I have a healthy disrespect for "pop science" or the "everyone knows that" style of argument, so I was pleased to see how thoroughly documented this book is. In some cases, every sentence in an entire paragraph is followed by a citation, yet the book is extremely readable and very interesting. The book is chock-full of studies that make excellent conversational tidbits. For example, in one study the participants were asked to work until they felt they had earned $4. Women on average worked 22% longer and did 32% more work before they judged they had earned the money. In another, participants were told they would be paid either $3 or $10 for their work. When offered $3, nine times as many men as women asked for $10.

I recommend this book for any woman at all, but especially those in careers with a lot of flexibility in salary and benefits, since those are the conditions under which women are most likely to be treated unequally. One of my friends saved herself thousands of dollars just by being brave enough to ask for more compensation for speaking at a conference - which I encouraged her to do because I'd just read this book. I did a much better job negotiating my salary and benefits for my next two jobs as a result of reading this book, and I now routinely ask for special deals and discounts, something that used to be abhorrent to me. One college student who initially borrowed "Women Don't Ask" from the library immediately ordered it along with next semester's textbooks, saying for $15, it was an excellent long-term investment - a bit of an understatement, given how many thousands of dollars it has made for the women I know who have read it.

I also recommend this book for anyone in a position of managing other people or assigning resources to people. Once you know that women (including yourself) will ask for less, you can correct for this difference and improve retention and pay equality. The consulting company Deloitte and Touche reduced turnover among female managers from 33% to 18% (the same rate as male managers) and saved literally hundreds of millions of dollars as a result of studying gender differences in negotiation and other areas. Most companies take the "don't ask, don't tell" approach to pay equality, and end up leaving huge savings on the table.

One minor criticism of this book is that it doesn't give enough details on how to go about negotiating, especially when it comes to your job. I wrote "HOWTO Negotiate Your Salary and Benefits" based on my experience implementing the techniques in "Women Don't Ask." It has specific tips on what to say and how to practice your negotiating skills so when the time comes to discuss your salary and benefits, you're ready. And as noted before, there is a new book out, Ask for It, which has extensive practical advice on negotiating for women. I highly recommend it!