The title of this post comes from an article I assigned to my MBA students for a class today. The piece was written by Professor Andrea Schneider, who teaches at Marquette University Law School. In it she challenges—convincingly—the stereotype that women are worse at negotiation than men are.

For starters, Schneider is skeptical about the relevance of lab some studies that seem to support that conclusion. The subjects are often undergraduates, with limited real-world experience. Moreover, the simulations used in this research tend to be simplistic, with salary the only issue on the table. For professional jobs, many more issues must be worked out: title, performance metrics, and maybe flex time, just to name a few. A good negotiator—male or female—would work creatively to secure an attractive package in all those regards.

Schneider notes that women, who are seen as more empathic, likely have an edge here, since that quality can “serve as a catalyst for creativity by finding out joint interests or integrative solutions.” Empathy also fosters good long-term relationships with co-workers and bosses. Surely success in that regard should be a factor—maybe a big one—in measuring negotiation effectiveness.

Those are all valid points that should be kept in mind whenever we talk about gender and negotiation. Yet in today’s class, we dug into why—if Schneider is right—the wage gap between men and women persists, even when people are doing the same job.

Part of the answer may be that while women may not win the skirmish over salary, they may win in other ways long-term. That could be true to some extent and in some cases. Yet it doesn’t square with the experiences of several women who spoke up in my class this afternoon.

One student described how, before coming to HBS, she had accepted an offer where the HR person told her flatly that the salary was not negotiable. But, as it happened, a male friend of hers—talking to precisely the same person—got a bump in pay without hardly asking. Then another student described her resentment over how getting lower pay at the outset produces an ever-increasing gap, even if everyone gets the same percentage increase thereafter.

Other students—both women and men—allowed that they were uncomfortable about seeming too pushy when they negotiate job offers.

Part of that feeling comes from uncertainty about the implicit rules of the game. Professor Schneider cites an intriguing field study where researchers varied the language of real-life advertisements for an administrative assistant position. “When the job listing left the wage ambiguous,” she notes, “men were more likely than women to negotiate their salary. However, when the job listing made it clear that wage was negotiable, women negotiated at equal rates.”

Why would that be? Schneider says it’s largely women’s fear of backlash. We might wish there weren't a double standard today, but the reality is that men still can get away with behavior that women cannot. I’m not talking about extremes here.

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I know from personal experience that if I have a grin on my face, I can say something sarcastic or flippant, and my comment will be taken as a joke. But if a woman were to say the same thing, in exactly the same tone, she could be labeled as having an attitude.

As a guy, I don’t have to worry about backlash but my female students do. Professor Schneider recommends a three techniques for women to overcome that obstacle.

First, is putting a positive spin on negotiation, seeing it as a vital and engaging part of professional life.

Second, is exploiting the stereotype by presenting oneself as a team player. “A woman may reduce the likelihood of backlash and be assertive by framing requests (for increased budget, for example) as a benefit of for the whole group.”

Third, don’t allow gender to dominate how other people see you. Invoke other aspects of your identity: your role, your responsibilities, and your accomplishments.

I’ll add one more piece of advice. And it applies just as much to men as it does to women. I pulled it from a post I put up here four years ago: “Three Dangerous Myths About Women Negotiators.”

When Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg was first recruited by Facebook, she insisted on a lucrative compensation package, but did so in a way that wouldn’t turn off her new employer. “Of course you realize that you’re hiring me to run your deal team,” Sandberg said after laying out her terms, “so you want me to be a good negotiator.” Then with a smile she reminded them, “This the only time you and I will ever be on opposite sides of the table."

This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse

Professor Mike Wheeler

About the Author

Mike Wheeler is a Professor of Management Practice, Emeritus at Harvard Business School and teaches the Negotiation Mastery course. Profesor Wheeler's current research focuses on negotiation dynamics, dispute resolution, ethics, and distance learning. He also co-directs the Negotiation Pedagogy initiative at the inter-university Program on Negotiation. He is the author or co-author of 11 books, and his self-assessment app—Negotiation360—was released early in 2015.