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Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide
Princeton University Press, 2003
240 pp., $42.00
by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen
How to Unmuzzle a Threshing Ox
Responding to recommendations from its own professors, Princeton University recently set aside $10 million to accelerate the recruitment, hiring, and retention of women faculty in science and engineering. In parallel fashion, since the turn of the millennium Princeton University Press has accelerated the rate at which it is publishing topnotch volumes by scholars in politics, law, labor relations, and management on questions of gender justice in the United States. These include Christina Wolbrecht's award-winning Politics of Women's Rights: Parties, Position and Changes (2000); Nancy Hirschman's The Subject of Liberty: Toward a Feminist Theory of Freedom (2002); and Dorothy Cobble's The Other Women's Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights in Modern America (2003). A recent addition to this list, but one of more mixed quality, is Women Don't Ask by Carnegie Mellon economics and management professor Linda Babcock and writer Sara Laschever.
The subject of the book as expressed in its subtitle—"Negotiation and the Gender Divide"—is not unimportant. Reviewing a number of studies using a range of methodologies—laboratory experiments, social surveys, personality trait scales, case studies—the authors tell us that women on average do not negotiate on their own behalf as often or as successfully as men do. This is the case whether the object of the negotiation is a more just division of labor at home, a more equitable divorce settlement, a raise or job assignment, a business contract, or even simple recognition of a job well done. Moreover, a significant gender gap remains even when factors such as age, education, and professional experience are controlled for. In a representative experimental study conducted by Babcock, individual students were recruited to play a game of skill and told they would be paid between three and ten dollars after four rounds of the game. However, at the end each student was told "Here's three dollars—is that ok?" Students who asked for more ...