Want Better Pay? Take a Hike

A new Stanford study suggests that women can get more out of what they want in negotiations, including salary discussions, if they step away from the negotiating table and go for a walk instead.

Author: Michelle Russell       

two business women walking and talking

A Stanford study found that two women conducting a mock salary negotiation while walking outdoors had more positive outcomes than negotiating while seated indoors.

Women in the U.S. earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau — not much better than in 1996, when a woman earned 75 cents to man’s dollar. A recent Harvard Law School blog post highlights one of the reasons why the gender pay gap persists: Women tend to be less comfortable and not as proficient as men in salary negotiations.

Much of this comes down to acculturation — in many societies, girls are encouraged to be accommodating, concerned with the welfare of others, and relationship-orientated from an early age, the blog points out. This kind of ingrained thinking works against women when they sit at the negotiation table, particularly when they are advocating on their own behalf and where assertiveness is often key to more successful outcomes. If women are too assertive, they are judged as cold and unlikeable; too weak and they end up with a worse deal.

One study, which Convene wrote about nearly a decade ago, showed that women negotiated for higher salaries when they were advocating for someone other than themselves, and employing that mindset was suggested as a workaround strategy. The Harvard post picks up on this idea by recommending that women view themselves as advocates for their organizations “and pointing to their organization’s needs” — rather than their own — during negotiations.

Two other strategies women can employ to feel more comfortable during these conversations, according to the post: 1) invest in negotiation training and gain more experience at the bargaining table, and 2) spend time doing research so they can reference published standards for salary ranges in their field during those conversations.

A new Stanford study offers a more unorthodox approach: Just go for a walk. According to an Inc. story summarizing the study results, “conflict negotiators and marriage counselors have long known that getting up and moving around with someone is a great way to break through a conversational impasse.”

To test if the well-known cognitive benefits of walking would lead to better salary negotiations, Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Margaret Neale conducted a study that put 160 volunteers into same-sex pairs. They were asked to conduct a mock job offer negotiation, with half doing the exercise seated across from each other and the other half doing it while walking outside.

Men didn’t see a benefit to walking outside — in fact, they said they felt more negative than positive about the experience. (In an Insights by Stanford Business article, Neale theorizes that the men might have interpreted this unusual exercise as a competition or race.)

But the walk and talk had big benefits for women, who “achieved more equitable results, as measured by points assigned to their final outcomes,” according to the Insights story. “A good walk is a perfect metaphor for the kind of collaborative problem-solving Neale advocates. It requires both parties to sync their pace and focus as they had toward a common destination. … a successful negotiator has to convince their counterpart ‘to voluntarily walk this path of agreement with me.’”

Of course, it remains to be seen if a woman would gain the same benefit from conducting a walking salary negotiation with a man. But it’s worth a shot, according to Inc.: “At the very least, you’ll stretch your legs, relax your mind, and distract yourself from just how annoying it can be to negotiate while female.”

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