Men are more assertive in initiating salary negotiations

September 5, 2021

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Men are more assertive in initiating salary negotiations

A new study reports that the salary gap between men and women may be due to a certain personality trait: assertiveness.

What the researchers say: “We found that women are higher in politeness and compassion than men, but neither of these personality traits were related to the propensity to initiate a negotiation,” said the lead author. “Rather, assertiveness was positively related to initiating negotiations.”  

The study extends the literature on individual differences and negotiation by testing how the “Big Five” personality traits may contribute to salary negotiation initiation. Those traits are agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, and neuroticism. The study included 246 full-time employees as participants.

The researchers also found gender differences in initiating a negotiation depending on the gender of the negotiation counterpart.  

“We found that the gender difference in initiating negotiations (men are more likely to initiate than women) is larger when interacting with a male boss. However, rather than women initiating like men when they interacted with a female boss, it turned out that men initiated less when interacting with a female boss,” they noted.  

In other words, women were unlikely to initiate a negotiation in either condition, but men differed based on the gender of the boss. Female bosses may be perceived as violating gender norms by holding a more agentic role as opposed to a more communal one.

“This incongruence with gender norms may, in turn, decrease men’s comfort to negotiate with a woman supervisor,” said Reyes.  

Despite the ever-present opportunity to negotiate wages in the professional world, there remains an obvious gender wage gap. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics compared the median earnings of full-time wage and salary workers and found that, on average, women earned 83% of their male counterparts’ compensation in 2014. Additionally, starting wages have been found to be higher for men than women.

So, what? The first thing to bear in mind regarding this study is the obvious: not all men are assertive, not all women are backward in initiating pay discussions—in fact many women are much better at salary negotiations than men. Genetics may dictate a predisposition to assertiveness—or any trait—but it is experience, context and societal conditioning which are much stronger factors.

Assertiveness is, of course, linked to aggression. Our remote ancestors—a small group of hunter-gatherers—needed the superior physical strength of men and, their willingness to use it, for hunting and defense from attack by other bands. It makes sense, therefore, that men should have within their DNA a propensity for aggressiveness.

It is also obvious that this would be carried through into all aspects of men’s lives. What was beneficial and socially controlled in the remote past is no longer the case in our present society, especially since the outlet for that assertiveness—hunting wild and dangerous animals—is no longer there.

In some societies, and in many families within our Western society, boys are encouraged to be assertive, even aggressive. This aggression is excused as “boys being boys.” There being no hunting this is genetic predisposition and childhood conditioning can propel some men to seek outlets in dangerous sports, spousal and parental abuse, bullying, crime, transactional management, and assertive wage negotiating.

For more on gender differences click here.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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