HR magazine has reported that research from Melbourne Business School reveals that it’s more important for women to be ‘likeable’ rather than good at their job if they want a pay rise or promotion.

Professor Mara Olekalns, who teaches negotiation management as part of the MBA curriculum, found gender stereotypes were still in place while investigating the persistent 17% wage gap between women and men. She said: “The issue in negotiation is that the behaviour we normally associate with strong negotiators – competence – is also male gender stereotyped. This means that when women increase their competitiveness by demonstrating their competence, they violate their gender stereotype which prescribes that they appear more accommodating and relationship focused.”

Olekalns’ research reveals part of the explanation for the pay gap is that women are often their own worst enemy by being reluctant to negotiate. And when they do negotiate, they ask for less. But in spite of this, she said that harder negotiating is often not the answer.

She added: “For women, negotiating harder often invokes a backlash effect where they get a poorer performance evaluation because they lose on ‘likeability’. They can be subjected to nasty comments in the office because they are perceived to be acting pushily. My advice to women is to start any negotiation by building rapport through general chit chat. Find common ground and use it to clearly signal that you have the same values and goals as the person with whom you are negotiating.”

Comment: While commonsense and intuition would tend to support the findings of this research, you can’t help wondering two things. First, might this not also be saying something about the nature of Australian (business) society? Second, since wanting to be ‘liked’ is not solely a female trait, might these research findings also go some way to explaining why some men are also reluctant to negotiate strenuously for their promotion and remuneration?