Academic jobs are more than hard to find. For many aspiring professors they are nearly impossible.
Thus, it was good news when a woman who calls herself W was offered a tenure-track job at Nazareth College.
But then, inspired by Sheryl Sandberg, she decided to lean in. Having learned that women suffer wage discrimination because they are not bossy enough, W responded to her acceptance with this emailed missive:
As you know, I am very enthusiastic about the possibility of coming to Nazareth. Granting some of the following provisions would make my decision easier[:]
1) An increase of my starting salary to $65,000, which is more in line with what assistant professors in philosophy have been getting in the last few years.
2) An official semester of maternity leave.
3) A pre-tenure sabbatical at some point during the bottom half of my tenure clock.
4) No more than three new class preps per year for the first three years.
5) A start date of academic year 2015 so I can complete my postdoc.
The college replied:
Thank you for your email. The search committee discussed your provisions. They were also reviewed by the Dean and the VPAA. It was determined that on the whole these provisions indicate an interest in teaching at a research university and not at a college, like ours, that is both teaching and student centered. Thus, the institution has decided to withdraw its offer of employment to you.
Thank you very much for your interest in Nazareth College. We wish you the best in finding a suitable position.
When Katy Waldman reports this story she observes that if a man had done the same thing he would not have lost the job. Because, don’t you know, the point of the exercise is to prove feminists right. If W talks herself out of a job, the fault lies with the patriarchy.
In truth, W was not negotiating. W did not know how to negotiate. She demonstrated the point with utmost clarity in her email. Any man who had sent the same email would have received the same reply.
W was making demands. True, she said that they were subject to discussion, but demands are demands.
Since she had no real leverage, her demands were a bluff. The college called her bluff. You shouldn't try to bluff when all your cards are exposed. Frankly, the situation isn’t too difficult to understand.
When offered a job, one for which there was certainly a great deal of competition, you should first express gratitude.
Under the circumstances, and given the nature of the academic job market, W was in no position to make demands. She was not an academic star, she did not have another job to fall back on.
Negotiating from weakness is never a good idea. It is a worse idea when your negotiating partner knows that you are bluffing.
W had not even signed a contract. She was in no position to make demands.
We have seen this before. In the old days, women were exhorted to be more self-assertive. In truth, Sandberg’s lean-in is a recycled version of self-assertiveness training.
The practice went out of style because it was founded on an error. What matters in negotiation, as in life, is not how empowered you feel while you are mouthing off or making imperious demands. What matters is the effect you produce on other people, and whether you accomplish your goal.
If a piece of advice sets you up for failure, it is worse than useless.
Even though Waldman tends not to blame feminists for giving women bad advice, she grasps how self-defeating it can all become:
But Sheryl Sandberg and a new generation of working feminists have inflamed our timid souls: We understand now that negotiating for a higher salary can help shrink the gender pay gap and that when we value our time and expertise, so do our employers. Plus, what’s the downside to floating a better number to the higher-ups, like a plume of smoke from the burnt offering that is our endless drudgery?
The worst they can say is no.
But, in fact, bosses can do a lot worse than say no—they can assign us fewer projects because we lack team spirit. They can label us rude and uncooperative. They can even rescind our job offers.
Negotiation is complex. It is very difficult. Different people have different negotiating styles. What works for one might not work for another.
If you don’t know how to negotiate you will invariably get it wrong. You should never take one-size-fits all advice.
Before you negotiate you need to know who, what, where, when, why and how.
You have to know who you are. You have to know your value to the enterprise, compared with that of others who are on your level. If you are the only person who can do the job, it’s one thing. If there are a hundred other candidates, equally qualified, it’s something else.
Since Sandberg and other feminists teach women that they are in an adversarial relationship with oppressive patriarchs, women who take their advice treat their superiors as the opposition.
When negotiating for a raise or a promotion, you should treat your superior as a partner, someone who wants what is best for the company and for his employees.
You have to know how much leverage you have. If you have another job offer you can negotiate more directly than if you do not.
Don’t make demands, even if you pretend that they are negotiable demands. When negotiating for a raise, find a way to show what you have contributed, what you have accomplished and what value you have added to the company.
It is often not a very good idea to make a negotiation into a complaint session. You will not look very good if you start complaining about how Jack or Jill is making more for doing the same thing.
Anyone who follows that piece of conventional feminist wisdom will be undermining her negotiation position, by looking like a whiner.
Don’t negotiate via email. Negotiate face-t0-face. Serious people speak directly to other serious people.
Understand that someone else’s negotiation style might not suit you and might not suit your relationship with your employer.