Several people in my Twitter network tweeted about this Reddit post on how women need to negotiate better in order to get better pay. And then Jeff Atwood, whose Coding Horror blog is pretty darn awesome reading if you are interested in software and tech, pointed out that Clay Shirky had said basically the same thing (and much more) awhile ago, in a fairly famous (infamous? I guess it depends on your perspective) post about why women don't get ahead.
I've read this same basic advice many, many times. And you know what? It is reasonably good advice.
It makes a whopping big assumption, which has actually been shown to be false, that women could just start doing the same things that men do and they will get the same results as men. Put simply, it is not at all clear that aggressive negotiation (or self-promotion, or any other of a number of stereotypically male behaviors) are actually the most effective strategy for a woman to employ if she wants to get ahead. In some cases, these behaviors may actually hurt a woman's career.
And that's leaving aside the objection that doing these things requires women to break free of a lifetime's worth of conditioning about how women (and girls) are supposed to behave.
Personally, I am not that great at negotiating my starting salary and the like, and I know it. I try to get better, and I do make the effort every time I have to do it, but I don't go at it as aggressively as many of my male (and some of my female) friends and colleagues do. I can't say whether or not this has hurt me in terms of my career advancement or salary. In every company I have ever worked at since entering the professional world, my salary has followed the same pattern: I am hired in at something close to what I was making previously, and then in my first performance review, I get a sizable raise. I have compared my current salary to the standard range for people in my position with my level of education and experience, and I come out slightly above average. Would I be making more or less if I negotiated aggressively when hired? I don't know, and judging from the research I've read neither does anyone else.
I'm not arguing that we can't all learn from that Reddit post or Clay Shirky's rant- I, for instance, am working on getting over my aversion to self-promotion. But I am saying that it isn't anywhere near as straightforward as those articles make out. This is one area in which our society has well and truly stacked the deck against women- we're damned no matter what we do. So please, let's recognize that when we're doling out advice about how to reach equality. And let's recognize that this is not a problem women can just decide to solve on their own.* The men have some work to do, too.
Unlike the working mom guilt issue,
for instance- scroll to the bottom of that post to read about how I
think that problem is one we can tackle on our own.