Negotiating: It isn’t all created equal

Recently, a member in my LinkedIn group posted this article on negotiation:

It’s a good article. It cites relevant research from Harvard, that is mostly right on the money. Women do have a more difficult time negotiating, both because of a “likeability complex” and because they are more likely to be perceived in a negative light (#banbossy, anyone?). That said, I take umbrage at the example used to support the author’s thesis. Studies on negotiation tactics and success are usually – like this one – more or less confined to professional settings. Here, a lot depends on the specific nuances of applying for an academic position. I don’t think it was the best example to support the author’s thesis.

I asked my spouse, who happens to be a female professor at a local university, and who has participated on academic search committees, for her opinion. She has heard of similar stories, of both women and men, who were caught in this type of sticky negotiation situation – which, I’ll again mention, is rather unique to academia. Here’s what she said:

“I don’t think I would have put it in writing, and it’s very uncommon for someone to be negotiating with the search committee. The search committee usually simply makes a recommendation; they have no power. Negotiations are usually done with the Head of the Division or the Department Chair. Her email was not appropriate. She was addressing the wrong people in the wrong way. Academic negotiations are very tricky, yet she’s asked for the equivalent of a year off (pretenure and maternity leave) plus a 1 year delay in her actual arrival on campus. It’s like she’s saying, yes I’ll take your job, but I won’t be there when you need me, I won’t teach as much as you want me to and I’m going to disappear for 2 full semesters at some point in the next few years. I would have maybe asked for two of those – more base salary for sure; the semester of maternity leave one is a head scratcher because it depends on what their benefits package already cover. And again, I would have done this negotiation over the phone or in person so I could judge the feedback from the dept. chair while I was talking.” I asked her if it mattered that the applicant was a woman. She replied, “well the maternity leave part is specific to her gender. I’m not sure if the others mattered. Their response, about her sounding research focused, would apply across genders (if it’s legitimate). The research versus teaching school thing is very legitimate (and it sounds like she hasn’t done her research as to which type of school this is). I think she was ill-advised. Another possibility is that they had reservations about her to begin with but she was the “best candidate” that they could get approval for but when she pushed back it was easy for them to go to their #2.”

And, keeping in mind that universities, admit it or not, have “gender quotas” to fill (e.g., it’s in their best interest to have diverse faculty), I’m not sure this decision on the part of Nazareth has anything to do with the fact that the applicant is female. I think her “rookie mistake” would likely lead to a rescinded offer – even if it were a man, substituting “parental leave,” maybe, for maternity leave? Or even possibly without it. Thoughts? I am curious as to why they didn’t offer even a counteroffer… but again, I don’t think it has much to do with the fact that she is a she.


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