Instead of Telling Women to Lean In, Teach Them How to Negotiate

In recent years, Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” and other guides to workplace success have been billed as empowerment tools for women. Yet gender differences persist in pay and career achievement in many fields.

Although it’s not quite as catchy as Sandberg’s two-word mantra, learning how to negotiate can contribute substantially to success in the workplace, not just in starting salaries, but also in career progress, “promotions, working arrangements and learning and development opportunities,” according to an article in the Journal of Public Affairs Education by Professor Maria D’Agostino (John Jay College) and scholars from Long Island University and the University of Dallas.

“From a gendered perspective, traditional societal, institutional, and stereotypical gender roles may put women at a disadvantage when it comes to negotiating,” D’Agostino and her co-authors wrote.

And learning how to negotiate doesn’t just help women in the work world: “The importance of mastering negotiation skills extends to the day-to-day management of employees and the overall success of the organization.”

To see how often negotiating skills are being taught to future workplace leaders, the researchers surveyed MPA (master in public affairs) programs. They focused on MPA programs partly because enrollments skew female, and because MPA grads tend to go into high-level governmental or nonprofit careers where they become “the face” of “serving the public and the common good … they are the decision-makers in terms of creating policy,” D’Agostino said in an interview with John Jay Research. Policies that originate in government and nonprofit sectors – like paid family leave and barring employers from asking about salary history – are often codified into law or set standards for other industries.

The survey found that while many programs teach negotiation in some form — for example, through a lecture — less do so specifically through a course focused specifically on that skill. In fact, only five programs made such a course a requirement. That dearth led the researchers to conclude, “We must advance the gender in negotiation discourse through academic scholarship and build a presence at national conferences, forums and lectures.”

Helping students understand the issues affecting successful negotiation remains imperative, they argued. “We must begin to educate our future public managers (especially women future managers) with a distinctive negotiation skill set as they navigate the 21st century workplace.”

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Gender in negotiation: Preparing public administrators for the 21st century workplace
Journal of Public Affairs Education, 2019

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Maria D'Agostino (Associate Professor, Department of Public Management) | Profile 1