Beware of ideologues offering one-size-fits-all solutions to every problem. Case in point: the current mania over leaning in. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg advises women to lean in, thus to pretend to be tough when negotiating salaries. By her lights, women earn less than men because they are not aggressive negotiators.
Sandberg does not understand that other factors might enter the equation. (See yesterday’s post.) She does not understand that different jobs might add different value to companies. She does not understand that many women would rather work less and have more time for family. And she does not understand that, in the end, there is no such thing as equal work.
So, Sandberg advises women to lean in, thus to be more direct, to be more confrontational, to get in their boss’s faces. Perhaps Sandberg did not really want women to become more confrontational, but the concept of “leaning in” involves posturing. It involves macho posturing.
To lean in is to confront. Yet, when you are constitutionally weaker than another person it is not smart to be more confrontational. A quick glance at Darwin would tell you that those who adopt self-defeating behaviors tend to have lower survival rates. Being confrontational is not in female DNA. Telling women to do something that is not in their DNA will set them up for failure.
Besides, macho posturing is not a good tactic for men either. Your salary does not depend on tough talk and bluffing. It depends on the value you add to the company-- especially to the extent that you can document it. If you enter a negotiation using threats and intimidation, you might negotiate yourself out of a job.
Such was the case of a great Sandberg friend, former New York Times executive editor, Jill Abramson. When Abramson discovered that her male predecessor was earning more than she was she confronted her boss, Arthur Sulzberger. He fired her on the spot.
Was she fired for leaning in? Not exactly. My sources tell me that editors get themselves fired for being poor managers, for losing control of the newsroom. Apparently, Abramson was an incompetent manger. And she did not even know it. She was not leading or managing, but was posturing, playing a part, looking the role. Instead of leaning in she should have taken a few lessons in good management technique.
And now we have the strange case of Megyn Kelly, another Sandberg friend and acolyte. You know the story so I will spare you the details. For reasons that escape us all, Kelly decided to make her salary negotiations with Fox News a public spectacle. Normally, such parleys take place in private. By making them public Kelly was leaning in. But she was also threatening a company and its boss that had made her what she has become. She may not have known it, but she was pursuing a political agenda.
Many people at Fox were distressed at Kelly’s tactics. First, because she was making the company look bad. Second, because she was threatening senior management. Third, because she made it look like it was all about her.
Many of Kelly’s fans—who appreciated her fair and balanced approach-- were disturbed to see her become a feminist heroine. Many of them will no longer watch her on NBC.
They understood that the process was more about hurting Fox News than about gaining a better contract for Kelly. After all, the existence of Fox News has been a thorn in the side of those who believe that they should hold a monopoly over the marketplace of ideas. You know, roughly like the one they hold in American universities.
In the end Kelly turned down $25 million from Fox in favor of approximately $15 million from NBC. True enough, she is moving from cable to network. And she will apparently be getting an afternoon show… thus making her the new Oprah. If you have ever seen Kelly’s show you will know that she will never become the next Oprah. That is not where her talent lies.
Several television critics have already pointed out that the audience for afternoon television differs significantly from the audience for Fox News prime time. Aside from negotiating herself into a far lower salary, Kelly might have damaged her career.
She said she was doing it for her children because she did not want to be working when they came home from school. And yet, Bill O’Reilly tapes his 8:00 p.m. show in the afternoon. Is it possible that Fox refused to offer the same terms to its rising female star?
So, Kelly leaned in. She will be paid significantly less. She will have less immediate clout in public debate. She has alienated her viewers but will become a feminist heroine.
I have said it before and will say it again. Leaning in is bad advice. It is bad advice for women and it is bad advice for men. Never take advice from people whose minds have been captured by ideology.
That being said, Olga Khazan offers an intriguing look at female negotiating tactics in the Atlantic.
She does not mention “leaning in”—why agitate the goddess?—but she points out that sometimes women choose not to negotiate because they know that they will lose. Case in point-- not mentioned by Khazan— Jill Abramson. If Abramson had understood how weak her position was—she should have-- she would not have tried to negotiate a salary increase. Only an ideologue, pulling her strings, would have pushed her to overplay her hand and to lose what is arguably the most powerful job in journalism.
Khazan presents the issue well:
One of the most common explanations for the gender-wage gap is that women simply don’t ask for higher salaries, while men do. The idea that one should “always negotiate your salary” is standard college-counselor fare. In a blog post about the gender wage gap, the U.S. Department of Labor suggests women “aim higher and negotiate better” as one of the possible remedies.
And at first, it seems innocuous, right? Negotiating is one of the few ways workers in today’s economy can secure better salaries and benefits. Women, the thinking goes, should do it or risk being ground up by the merciless gears of capitalism. Or, you know, make at most 93 cents to the dollar.
Women do tend to negotiate less than men do, and some researchers suggest that’s because they justifiably fear they’ll violate societal norms of demure, communal female behavior—and be punished for it. (As one study depressingly found, “Perceptions of niceness and demandingness explained resistance to female negotiators.”) So how should women proceed? In a new paper in NBER, three economics and management researchers find that advising women to “always negotiate” might not be in their best interest—because, it seems, women seem to already know when negotiations won’t work out in their favor.
As Khazan frames the issue, those who tell women to lean in are disrespecting women. They are assuming that women are dupes of the patriarchy and dupes of their capitalist oppressors.
Many women do not negotiate or choose a different negotiating style because they are smart. They evaluate their options and analyze the situation. They exercise their judgment and do what is best for them. When they use a one-size-fits-all tactic they invariably fail. Not only that, but they damage their careers.
When women are disinclined to negotiate, they should not negotiate. This was demonstrated in a research study. Khazan presents the conclusion:
Women were avoiding the negotiations they knew would not end well for them. The likelihood of women losing money tripled if they were forced to negotiate, rather than given the option. “By opting out of negotiations, women are avoiding substantial financial losses,” the study authors write. “That is, women know when to ask.”
Unlike women, men were not particularly likely to opt out of negotiations that they would probably lose. Thus, being forced to negotiate was neither bad nor good for the men, but it was bad for women, says Christine Exley, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School who co-authored the study along with Muriel Niederle of Stanford University and Lise Vesterlund at the University of Pittsburgh.
Strangely enough, being pushed to negotiate was neither good or bad for men, but it was bad for women. So, the average woman knows what is best for her. Sheryl Sandberg does not.
Moreover, the authors explain, negotiating is a learned skill. You are not born knowing how to do it. There is no magical formula, no clever trick, either mental or postural, that will make you a better negotiator.
The basis for a good negotiation is a command of one’s brief, a full understanding of all the issues in play. If you are negotiating for a better salary you should be able to quantify your contribution. Thus, you will be asking your boss to compensate you according to your contribution, not as a function of your macho posturing.
And you should never, never negotiate in public. It doesn’t just make your boss and your company look bad. It makes you look like an ingrate who has a personal agenda, who is in it for the self-aggrandizement.
Recall that while Megyn Kelly was making herself look foolish Rupert Murdoch declared that she was not irreplaceable. She should have taken that as a sign that she had overplayed her hand. In most businesses, no one is irreplaceable.
Curiously, when Kelly signed off last Friday night, she thanked all of the people who had watched her show. If memory serves, she failed to thank the Fox executives who had made her a star. Disloyalty is not an attractive quality.
Perhaps she has hurt Fox News. (After all, that seems to have been the only point of the spectacle she put on.) Future ratings will tell. Perhaps she is going to become a star on afternoon television. And yet, however talented she is, she does not have Oprah’s warmth and generosity.
The moral of the story: beware of ideologues bearing advice. They are advancing their cause, not your career. And, I guarantee you, if you take their advice and it does not work out they will always be at the ready to blame someone else. Being an ideologue means never saying you’re sorry.