Why most women neglect their own personal development - and what to do about it
In general more men than women apply to executive education programs. More men than women participate in these programs. There is a risk that too many women neglect the opportunity of continuous learning and personal development. Also at SSE, we see fewer women than men applying to our continuing education programs. Why is that? If we look at research, one reason might be the ways men and women bargain for in-service training. According to research the solution is not necessarily in changing the women’s behavior but evaluating the management on diversity leadership.
Numerous studies show that men and women approach negotiations differently. For example, when it comes to negotiating salaries, women are prone to accept an employer’s first offer, while men often try to bargain for a higher salary. In laboratory studies, women don’t ask for more compensation than men do, and men tend to seek out bargaining situations, while women prefer to avoid such situations. Based on those findings, perhaps women don’t ask for or suggest training for themselves as much as men do and also don’t suggest more advanced or costly courses, either.
However, research has found that gender differences don’t always play that big of a role. In many cases, the context of the negotiation seems to be more significant than individual factors such as gender. All the same, the way a man or woman perceives a negotiating situation may indicate when gender might play a role in negotiations. Based on stereotypes, men are expected to be rational and firm and primarily look out for their own interests, while females are expected to be passive, emotional, and programmed to look out for the interests of others. Stereotypical male traits are associated with the traits of an effective negotiator, so it’s natural to think that men are, by nature, better negotiators.
Even if you don’t believe in the stereotypes, just knowing they exist and worrying that you could be linked to a group that has been discriminated against could influence you so that you get distracted from your goal. This is known as “stereotype threat.” But just because stereotypes exist doesn’t mean they have to disadvantage women or favor men in negotiating situations. Women can be spurred by being the underdog, while men can be burdened by being the favorite. One crucial factor seems to be an individual’s belief about whether negotiating skills are innate or learned. Those who believe that they are learned perform worse.
So why do women act the way they do? According to research women are socialized at an early age not primarily to promote their own interests but to focus on the needs of others. In contrast to men, they haven’t been trained to ask for more. Quite the opposite, women have learned that asking for more can get them punished, for example being branded as bitchy, pushy, or unwomanly. A solution often proposed to this bias is that women should change their behavior. It is argued that women can resolve this themselves by changing their attitudes towards negotiating, such as by learning to enjoy negotiations and taking advantage of every opportunity to practice.
As a rule, this approach results in companies providing continuing education to those who verbalize what they want the loudest, most often and most clearly.
One could question if that is necessarily the best way for the organization to develop the skills of its workforce. If a company strives for diversity in top management, it’s important to nominate in a broader perspective. Managers should be aware that if one person, for example a man, asks to take a course, it doesn’t mean that other people don’t also want to take it. It’s better to find out whether others – besides the one who asked – could also benefit. Personal development, in the sense of education and learning, is in this perspective a matter of organizational development Perhaps one way to address the issue would be to strengthen the incentives for the mangers as well, for example let them be assessed based on the growth of all their subordinates.
Nice girls don’t ask. Linda Babcock, Sara Laschever, Michele Gelfand, Deborah Small. Harvard Business Review. October Vol. 10. 2003.
Leading through Negotiation: Harnessing the power of gender stereotypes. By Laura J. Kray. California Management Review. Vol. 50, No.1. Fall 2007.