walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Women and negotiation

Possible link fu. I'll start with what set me off:


Opening story is of a woman trying to negotiate her tenure [eta: track job. So the applicant/aspirant/offeree? had no ongoing relationship with the people making the decision] offer. It went away. Here's what she asked for:

"She wanted a slightly higher salary than the starting offer, paid maternity leave for one semester, a pre-tenure sabbatical, a cap on the number of new classes that she would teach each semester, and a deferred starting date."

I used to work for someone who got the most amazing stuff written into his job offers -- extra vacation weeks, severance pay, high salary. He had a computer science degree from MIT and was a few years older than me. He'd had more jobs than me by the time we met, it was absolutely impossible to work with him on a project (I was the _only_ person who didn't believe this for the first 6 months I was on that job, and then we had to work together on a project and I started to see what everyone else was on about), and he was always laid off in the first round of a series of layoffs. Over time, it took him longer and longer to get a new job, but it didn't matter too much because, as I noted, he negotiated the severance package up front.

The woman in the story sounds like the man I used to work with. Nobody with any meaningful HR experience would hire a person like that if they could see it coming. Also, insert standard philosopher joke here.

I am supremely unimpressed by the New Yorker coverage positioning this tale as a Dangers of Women Negotiating. Part of why I am supremely unimpressed by this positioning is because I'm an idiot who really does believe that precisely two things matter in a negotiation: do you know what you want and do you know what your BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement). If your BATNA covers what you want, you shouldn't be fucking negotiating. Just go get that thing and wave good bye. If the other side wants something from you, figure out whether you think they've got anything you want before you proceed. The woman in the story did not have what I regard as a great BATNA (what's she gonna do next? Other than tell her story to the New Yorker. Maybe she's got a book written and ready to go. Maybe she's independently wealthy. Maybe she's got a better gig lined up elsewhere. But would you even be trying for a tenured spot in the philosophy department of Nazareth College if you had a better gig lined up somewhere else? She knows her situation better than anyone else.).

If your BATNA is less than what you really want out of a negotiation, then you need to understand what the other side wants. And believe me when I say, academic institutions have a set of expectations associated with junior people applying for tenure, and those expectations involve subservience, not to say groveling. There are exceptions: high flying people who already have tenure somewhere else and a list of publications as long as your arm in high impact journals and presence in the Contacts of numerous important pundits in the field. Those people get to negotiate for paid leave of one sort or another. And they are not junior.

Little of this has anything to do with gender, other than the historical bias that guarantees that the high flyers are overwhelmingly male and the aspirants are female. But as soon as you get a high flyer who is female, she really is going to be able to get away with asking for the moon.

I know this, because I just heard a story about a family member who asked for something that I would previously have regarded as completely unattainable in an academic context. And she got it. I concluded from this that the trustees concluded that she was absolutely not replaceable, and her presence in the offered position was absolutely required for the institution to enjoy future success.

Which is also a situation where you can start listing demands. And also did not apply to the aspiring philosopher.

ETA: Okay, I cannot resist. Once upon a time, yada yada yada, had to sign some stuff associated with a job offer. In a burst of proactive I dunno what came over me, I called the local bar association and got a referral to an employment law guy. I took my paperwork over to him, paid him $50 for a consultation to cover the referral fee charged by the local bar association and he looked it over and marked it up. I took the results back to the boss, El Jefe, shall we call him (har de har har), and we sat down and went over what the lawyer said and what the paperwork said and El Jefe and I agreed on some of the changes and El Jefe said flat out that some of the changes were not going to fly (honestly, I totes agreed that trying to get rid of the don't sue us you know this is a high stress job going in was a dumb idea), and I even got a modification to the no-compete (I got one person removed from the no-poach rule, on the basis that we were living together before we went to work with the company and we had already talked about maybe starting a company together -- never happened, and I think El Jefe knew it wouldn't and so didn't really care one way or the other).

I was happy. El Jefe seemed to find the interaction enjoyable (he has this amazing laugh) and unsurprising (I had already pointed out in a phone conversation regarding compensation that it was a good thing the boyfriend's job offer and mine were identical, given we had comparable job experience and identical educational credentials -- a fairly blunt announcement that I'm fucking watching out for gender discrimination and am happy you are not engaging in it). Some months, maybe a year later, I heard someone whining in the hallway about what was in their offer paperwork, and I foolishly said, well, why didn't you negotiate that? I did. At that point in time, there were still some people there who hadn't figured out that I really am not from this planet, and this story added to the general lore of Wow She's Really A Lot Weirder Than She Looks Even.

I will point out that while I was moderately interested in a startup at the time, I wasn't desperate for one, and I was kinda skeptical about the long term payout (ha ha ha ha ha Wow Did I Underestimate That One). Also, I was employed at the time. There was a headcount layoff coming up which I volunteered for and they were so reluctant to let me go they sent a VP and, IIRC, Elf Sternberg over to try to convince me to stay. Which is my only Elf Sternberg story.

This is what I mean by BATNA.

ETA: Further evidence the philosophy aspirant story is a bad example of the whole women in negotiations -- the story has been floating around for a while, and in its earliest incarnations, was being interpreted by some commenters in a gender neutral manner.


"“It was the ‘no more than 3 preps a year’ however, that made me guffaw,” Ball added via email. “This candidate really has no idea what s/he was considering stepping into at a [small liberal arts college]. While s/he could have done the job just fine, working at a [small liberal arts college] is, above all, about collegiality and teaching ability, and this candidate basically offered [several] counterpoints to her being able to fulfill that part of the college's mission.”"

While "maternity" leave would seem to signal being a woman (and obvs Nazareth must have known her identity to check her credentials), I've heard people use "maternity leave" in a generic way.

That Inside Higher Ed analysis is excellent, showing that the hiring college has a BATNA, too (the next applicants in line). It further acknowledges that people new or recently returned to the job market often have wildly out of line expectations (wow is this ever true, and you try to tell someone this and they'll about bite your head off and then flounce away).

Here is Slate's take on the sich:


I think what happened here _really was_ a fit issue. For all that a bunch of reframes (was it about research vs. small liberal arts, it's a buyer's market, etc.), the real issue may have been different conceptions of how to open a negotiation. I was pretty reactive to the opener, but I suspect my PacNW buddies would have been even more reactive. And, apparently, there are some areas that are accustomed to a much more combative approach to negotiation.
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