Our findings run counter to media coverage of the so-called phenomenon that “women don’t ask.” Instead the problem may be, as some other research has shown, that people routinely take a tougher stance against women in negotiations than they take against men—for example quoting higher starting prices when trying to sell women cars or making less generous offers when dividing a sum of money. Catalyst research has shown a number of ways that talent-management systems can also be vulnerable to unintentional gender biases and stereotypes.
Our latest findings should help us move past arguments that women themselves are to blame for the gender gap. “Too often the focus is on ‘women’s perceived issues’,” says Shahla Aly, a vice president at Microsoft. “This notion gives false comfort – that with time women will ‘be fixed’ and advance.”
If women are asking, but are still not advancing as quickly, maybe we need to frame things differently. Perhaps it’s not that women don’t ask—but that men don’t have to.