In a study published this month in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, UC Berkeley and UPenn researchers examined the role that gender plays in deceptive negotiations. Surprise, surprise: women get shortchanged more frequently than men. But this isn’t because women are worse at negotiating than men. As it turns out, everyone is just way more comfortable targeting women with blatant lies.
The idea for the study came out of Dr. Laura Kray’s personal experience that over the past 17 years, a striking number of female MBA students had complained to her about being lied to during the negotiation simulations in their business classes. Together with research partners Dr. Jessica Kennedy and Alex Van Zant, Kray set out to examine on a more systematic level whether women are more likely than men to be lied to during negotiations. The study was conducted in three parts:
- An online survey confirming the existence of a cultural stereotype wherein women are believed to be more easily misled in negotiations than men.
- An online experiment manipulating negotiator competence, warmth and gender to assess the influence of perception on negotiation behavior. Analysis showed that buyers’ perceived competence levels influence sellers’ ethical standards.
- An experiment using face-to-face negotiation role playing exercises with 298 MBA students to test the impact of deception on negotiation outcomes. Because women were told more blatant lies than men, they entered into more unfavorable deals under false pretenses.
In short: people view women as easy targets, so negotiators opportunistically lie through their teeth. Oh, the joys of being a woman.
To be fair (ha!), this type of deception doesn’t happen in all negotiations — just ones where negotiating partners think they’ll be able to get away with it, or that the consequences won’t be too bad if they’re found out. This is most common in distributive negotiations, where one party’s financial gain in a transaction comes from another’s direct loss. Some common examples include:
- Rent negotiations
- Salary negotiations
- Buying a car or home
- Buying used furniture or fruit from the fruit stand guy
- Booking a hotel or flight
- Booking a car rental
- Choosing a cell phone plan or credit card offer
- Choosing a cable package
- Getting work done on your car
And more. The internet can help a lot in these situations, but buyers are still very often sized up and served different prices. From the buyer’s end, it can be next to impossible to figure out which factors are taken into account in those equations.
Of all the frustrating truths this study reveals, I think what really seals the deal for me is that it wasn’t just men lying to women to get ahead; women also lied to women at near equal rates. Twenty-four percent of men said that they lied to women in the roleplaying exercise, while women lied to women 17% of the time. However, women lied to men 11% of the time, while men lied to men only 3% of the time. And men were more likely to be let in on secrets, which never happened to women.
I know some people will be inclined to read this as confirmation of all women as backstabbing bitches (because any excuse for misogyny, right?), but honestly, if I were in that business class, I could easily see myself tempted to behave in the same way. And I hate it, but on an individual level, I think those women kinda sorta did the right thing. Because if they hadn’t? They’d be playing right back into that tired stereotype: that women are terrible at negotiations. That women are too soft-willed to succeed in business. That only men have what it takes. Also: is it really fair to expect women to uphold higher ethical practices than men do?
When the patriarchy joins forces with capitalism, there are no just good choices for women. “Leaning in” isn’t enough to fix the problem. Then again, I’m pretty sure no single thing is.
Feature image via Shutterstock.