Linda Babcock is James M. Walton Professor of Economics at the H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has also been a visiting professor at Harvard Business School, The Unicersity of Chicago Graduate School of Business, and the California Institute of Technology. A specialist in negotiation and dispute resolution, her research has appeared in the most prestigious economics, inductrial relations, and law journals.
Sara Laschever's work has been published by the New York Times
, the New York Review of Books
, and Vogue
, among other publications. She was also the principal interviewer for Project Access, a landmark Harvard University srudy on women in science careers funded by the National Science Foundation. She lives in Concord, Mass.
Opportunity Doesn't Always Knock
Heather, 34, was the pastor at a struggling urban church in the Boston area. Heather was also an officer of her denomination's local association council–a group of pastors from around the region that ordains ministers, reviews clergy on disciplinary charges, and helps churches find pastors. At a meeting of the council, another pastor, a man, asked the council to extend the support it had been giving him for the past three years. Heather was unfamiliar with this man's situation and sat up to listen. It turned out that this male pastor had worked for many years at a prosperous Back Bay parish, where he'd been paid a generous salary. Three years before the meeting Heather attended, he'd decided to move to a poor urban parish that was struggling to revive itself. He hadn't wanted to give up the salary he'd made at the rich downtown church, so he'd asked the council to supplement his income–to make up the difference between what he'd been making in the wealthy parish and what he would be paid at his new church. The council controlled a small discretionary fund–a fund very few people knew about–and had agreed to supplement the male pastor's income from this fund for three years. Now those three years were coming to an end, and he was asking the council to renew the subsidy.
Once Heather understood what was happening, she also realized that the impoverished church this man served was comparable in most respects to her church–and the salary he wanted supplemented was similar to the one on which she'd been struggling to support her four children for seven years.
Heather's response revealed a kind of fatalistic dismay:
This fund–I never knew of its existence. I mean, I was on the Association Council! . . . It had never been publicized. . . . There had never been any discussion about it in any meeting, there had never been any sort of sense that his time with it was up now, so that it was time for other churches to apply. . . . There is no application procedure; it's not like it's a grant that you can apply to get or something. It was really a matter of this guy being able to somehow finagle this.
Heather's experience perfectly captures one of the major barriers preventing women from asking for what they need more of the time: Their perception that their circumstances are more fixed and absolute–less negotiable–than they really are. It also highlights the assumption made by many women that someone or something else is in control. This assumption–the result of powerful social influences that go to work the day a woman is born–has a broad impact on women's behavior. Instead of looking for ways to improve a difficult situation, women often assume that they are "stuck" with their circumstances. Instead of publicizing their accomplishments, they hope that hard work alone will earn them the recognition and rewards they deserve. Instead of expressing interest in new opportunities as they arise, they bide their time, assuming that they will be invited to participate if their participation is wanted. They think any allowable divergences from the status quo will be announced and offered to everyone. Women expect life to be fair, and despite often dramatic evidence to the contrary, many of them persist in believing that it will be.
Stephanie, 32, an administrative assistant, illustrates how this belief can play out in a woman's life. Stephanie told us that she tends to think that "things will just happen and if they don't there's a reason why they don't." Because of this attitude, she was unhappy with certain aspects of her job for some time but never approached her supervisor to see if changes could be made. Finally, Stephanie received another job offer. When she announced that she was leaving, her supervisor asked what it would take to keep her. After her supervisor made every change Stephanie wanted, Stephanie decided to stay. When we asked why she hadn't told her supervisor sooner what was bothering her, Stephanie said, "I tend to think people are pretty fair, so maybe I'm too trusting and expect that I'm getting what I deserve in that I work really hard."
This chapter looks at this barrier and its origins–why it is that many women assume that they must wait to be given the things they want or need and don't realize more of the time that opportunity doesn't always knock.
Turnip or Oyster?
If people's beliefs about the opportunities in life lie along a spectrum, at one end would be the view that "you can't get blood from a turnip." People holding this outlook believe that "what you see is what you get" and most situations cannot be changed. They may also assume, like Heather, that if a situation could be changed, this fact would be advertised to all. At the other end of the spectrum is the view that "the world is your oyster." People with this outlook believe that life is full of opportunities, most situations are flexible, rules are made to be broken, and much can be gained by asking for what you want.
Linda and several colleagues decided to systematically investigate whether men and women differ in their positions along this "turnip to oyster" spectrum. To do so, they developed a scale that measures the degree to which a person recognizes opportunities to negotiate and sees negotiation as critical for realizing those opportunities.1 Scales are research tools that have been used for many years to measure behavioral and perceptual differences across people. Perhaps the most famous is the Myers-Briggs scale, which maps an individual's personality profile according to where he or she scores on four related scales (extroverted–introverted, sensing–intuitive, thinking–feeling, judging–perceiving). Other scales capture individual differences in beliefs, perceptions, and behavioral tendencies. Not all of these differences are innate or biological, of course. Psychologists believe that behavior is heavily influenced by the situations in which people find themselves–a person may drink more at a party where other people are drinking than he or she would drink if alone, for example. Nonetheless, some stable traits and attitudes do lead to differences in the ways people behave. Scales are used to try to identify those traits and attitudes. People who are rated high on a "shyness" scale, for example, have been shown to talk less and engage in less frequent eye contact than people who rate low on that scale.
Unlike some of Linda's earlier studies, which measured the frequency with which respondents took the lead in starting negotiations, this "recognition of opportunity" or "turnip-to-oyster" scale measured people's propensity to see possibilities for change in their circumstances. This is how it worked: As part of the web survey described in the introduction, Linda and her colleagues presented respondents with a series of statements such as:
·I think a person has to ask for what he or she wants rather than wait for someone to provide it.
·There are many things available to people, if only people ask for them.
·Many interactions I have during the day can be opportunities to improve my situation.
The survey asked respondents to rate along a seven-point scale the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with each statement. Low scorers would be people who see little benefit to asking for what they want because they perceive their environment as unchangeable (these would be the "turnip" people). High scorers would be people who see most situations as adaptable to their needs and regularly look for ways to improve their circumstances (the "oyster"...