Relational Accounts: An Answer for Women to the Compensation Negotiation Dilemma

Hannah Riley Bowles
Harvard University – Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Linda Babcock
Carnegie Mellon University – H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management

November 3, 2008

HKS Working Paper No. RWP08-066


Women face a compensation negotiation dilemma in which they have to weigh the economic benefits of asking for higher pay with the social risks of defying prescriptive sex stereotypes (Bowles, Babcock, & Lai, 2007). In four experiments, we show that enhancing the legitimacy of women’s compensation requests does not eliminate the social risk of asking, and that eliminating the social risk of asking is not sufficient to legitimize their requests. We identify strategies for overcoming the compensation negotiation dilemma using «relational accounts» that simultaneously explain why the negotiating behavior is appropriate under the circumstances and affirm concern for organizational relationships.

Relational Accounts- An Answer for Women to the Compensation Negotiation Dilemma

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