When it comes to salary negotiation, managers ought to check their biases at the door, and make decisions about employees based on merit. But a recent article from TODAY Money notes that women who ask for more money are often negatively perceived by their supervisors as being greedy, demanding, or not nice. Research has documented that women pay a social cost for negotiating pay that men do not experience; one study found that when women negotiated they were considered less desirable by hiring decision-makers, and their colleagues had less desire to work with them. Research also shows that women have greater concerns than men about experiencing backlash for negotiating pay, and that these concerns are very much grounded in reality. This backlash, in itself, is a form of workplace discrimination.

It is crucial that employers put conditions in place that control for the “implicit bias” that women experience in negotiations, reducing the likelihood that women who negotiate will experience and fear discrimination. For example, a recent study found that when job announcements specified that the salary was negotiable women were actually more likely than men to engage in negotiations. This transparency signals to workers that negotiating is acceptable, and unlikely to lead to fallout.

It is also important to acknowledge that pay negotiations sit within a broader context of persistent barriers to women achieving fair pay – fifty years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act, women still earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by men for full-time, year-round work. These ongoing barriers include:

  • Women continue to earn less than men for performing the same jobs because of discrimination. Sex stereotyping – which could encompass the woman who is denied a raise because her demand was perceived as “too aggressive”, but also includes the married woman who is offered a lower starting salary in the first place because her husband is deemed the family breadwinner – is still all too common in today’s workplace.
  • Women continue to be excluded or discouraged from entering many higher-paying professions and encouraged to enter into lower-paying, predominantly female professions that are undervalued precisely because they are considered “women’s work”.
  • Women make up two-thirds of the workers who earn the minimum wage, which has been declining in both absolute and relative value for several decades.
  • Women still shoulder a disproportionate share of caregiving and household responsibilities, and pay a significant economic penalty for doing so due to the lack of paid family leave, sick days and fair scheduling policies.

There are a number of clear policy solutions to address these barriers. We will highlight just one here: one component of the Paycheck Fairness Act – a federal bill that would strengthen our equal pay laws – is a prohibition on the widespread employer practice of prohibiting workers from discussing their pay. By making it possible for women to find out when they are being paid less than their male counterparts and how pay-setting decisions were made, employers will both minimize the likelihood of discrimination against women who negotiate, and give women a fighting chance at finding out about and seeking a remedy for pay discrimination.