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Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide

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When Linda Babcock asked why so many male graduate students were teaching their own courses and most female students were assigned as assistants, her dean said: "More men ask. The women just don't ask." It turns out that whether they want higher salaries or more help at home, women often find it hard to ask. Sometimes they don't know that change is possible--they don't know that they can ask. Sometimes they fear that asking may damage a relationship. And sometimes they don't ask because they've learned that society can react badly to women asserting their own needs and desires.

By looking at the barriers holding women back and the social forces constraining them, Women Don't Ask shows women how to reframe their interactions and more accurately evaluate their opportunities. It teaches them how to ask for what they want in ways that feel comfortable and possible, taking into account the impact of asking on their relationships. And it teaches all of us how to recognize the ways in which our institutions, child-rearing practices, and unspoken assumptions perpetuate inequalities--inequalities that are not only fundamentally unfair but also inefficient and economically unsound.

With women's progress toward full economic and social equality stalled, women's lives becoming increasingly complex, and the structures of businesses changing, the ability to negotiate is no longer a luxury but a necessity. Drawing on research in psychology, sociology, economics, and organizational behavior as well as dozens of interviews with men and women from all walks of life, Women Don't Ask is the first book to identify the dramatic difference between men and women in their propensity to negotiate for what they want. It tells women how to ask, and why they should.

240 pages, Kindle Edition

First published January 1, 2003

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About the author

Linda Babcock

8 books41 followers
Linda C. Babcock is the James Mellon Walton Professor of Economics at the H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has also served as director of the Ph.D. Program and Interim Dean at the Heinz School.

Dr. Babcock grew up in Altadena, California, and attended public schools there before earning her bachelor's degree in economics from the University of California at Irvine. She subsequently attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where she completed a master's degree and a Ph.D. in economics. She has received numerous research grants from the National Science Foundation as well as several university teaching awards. She has served as a visiting professor at the Harvard Business School, the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, and the California Institute of Technology.

Dr. Babcock specializes in negotiation and dispute resolution. Her research has appeared in the most prestigious economics, industrial relations, and law journals, including the American Economic Review, the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the Journal of Economic Perspectives, Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Industrial Relations, the Journal of Legal Studies, The New York Times, the Economist, the Harvard Business Review, the International Herald Tribune, the Sunday Times of London and the International Review of Law and Economics. She also consults for public sector, not-for-profit, and private sector organizations.

Dr. Babcock is a member of the American Economic Association, the Society for Judgment and Decision Making, the Economic Science Association, the International Association for Conflict Management, the American Law and Economics Association, and the Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession. She is currently serving on the Behavioral Economics Roundtable of the Russell Sage Foundation and as a Review Panel Member at the National Science Foundation.

Dr. Babcock lives in Pittsburgh with her husband, Mark Wessel and their daughter.

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5 stars
573 (33%)
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650 (38%)
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374 (22%)
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74 (4%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 242 reviews
193 reviews
March 23, 2012
My Negotiation and Conflict Resolution class has been really rewarding so far, but by far the best part of it has been discovering the book Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. It’s been a bit of a revelation for me, making me realize that the world is far more negotiable than I think. However, statistically, women are less likely to ask for what we want, and when we do ask, we tend to get less than what men do. Some reasons for this:

* We’re more anxious about conflict.
* We tend to believe our circumstances are more fixed than they really are.
* We expect other people to treat us fairly.
* We tend to be more satisfied with what we have.
* We think of our incomes in terms of what we need instead of what our work is worth.
* We set our goals lower.
* If we are more forceful in pursuit of our goals, we tend to be viewed more negatively because of it.

The good news? Women tend to have a collaborative negotiating style, which has been shown to result in better outcomes than a competitive style. My professor calls it the enhanced best deal: instead of fighting to get the biggest piece of the pie, you make the pie bigger so everyone gets more. This takes a lot of openness and trust in order to share information and brainstorm creatively together—more like problem-solving than traditional bargaining. This is the strategy that seems to be favored by most negotiation teachers today. The fact that they’re trying to teach people to negotiate more like women is really reassuring to me, and makes me more confident in my own abilities to negotiate well. Preparation goes a long way toward reducing my anxiety about it!

I really don’t think the problem is as gender-specific as the book suggests, though. Jason exhibits most of the characteristics described in the book, as do a lot of other people I know. I think it could be renamed Mainers Don’t Ask without losing anything. We really don’t! We’re just used to making do with what we have. And we’re so focused on what’s fair that we actually fight to give money to each other!

I’m in the middle of buying a new car right now, and I’m keeping the lessons from this book and my negotiating class in mind as I do it. Wish me luck!
Profile Image for Abby Deane.
70 reviews5 followers
December 28, 2018
This book was recommended to me by the only female partner at my firm. I was skeptical because as a woman who doesn’t fall into the tentative, indirect lady category, sometimes conversations about gender bore me. However, this book was extremely helpful! I would recommend and even read again to reinforce some concepts. It is written in a research paper style, so just be prepared for that kind of structure.

The most helpful part was realizing the amount of things in life that are negotiable which I have never considered. Additionally, I had been feeling insecure about some opinions I’ve shared in professional settings recently, and through this book was able to identify that as my desire to preserve relationships over my desire to contribute strongly. This book encourages self reflection, and I will use these concepts in my tool belt for the rest of my career.
Profile Image for Shinynickel.
201 reviews22 followers
February 4, 2009
Everyone should read this book.

For women, this book shows empirically some of the effects of gender socialization, how that socialization creates pay inequality, and what you can do about it.

For men, this book is a great window into some of the cultural dynamics that may be invisible to you, that women have to deal with every day. Also, if you are male but feel like you have trouble being assertive, you should also read it and sub yourself in for the women that Babcock studied, because you've probably picked up some of the same cultural lessons (although not every chapter will apply to you - such as the double-bind women get in when they're punished for acting assertive because they're seen as too aggressive).

Babcock's research helps explain part of the persistent wage gap between men and women - primarily in the way gender norms around negotiations act to impede women.

The structure of the book is simple and to the point. Each chapter focuses on part of the dynamic, opening with a summary of the research to date, then moving in to talk about the best potential strategies for dealing with the findings. Topics include things such as the punishment that can accrue to women who are considered "too pushy", the way different genders are socialized to be 'good workers', and the different expectations for each gender on how to move through the world. An example of the last:

"We heard many stories of how parents communicate this difference to their children. Martha, the career counselor, described a conversation she had with her husband about 'how his father had taken the boys out and… taught them how to tip – basically, taught them how to slip the maitre d' money for good tables or give some money to the guys who were in the band to play a good song.' She'd never met a woman who'd had a comparable experience, she said, in which a parent or other authority figure took her out and showed her, as Martha put it, 'how to circumvent the system' to get what she wanted."

The titular dynamic the book discusses is that while men are encouraged by society to pursue their goals (and ask for raises, negotiate their pay when they're hired, demand higher bonuses), women are encouraged to work hard and wait to be recognized. This means that, generally, for women, being appreciated means having their boss realize how well they're doing and give them a raise. For men, being appreciated means asking for a raise and getting it. Babcock points out a subtler result of this dynamic - even bosses who want to appreciate their employees are hampered, because if they're not paying attention the men waving their hands around for raises are far more noticeable than the women working quietly and industriously expecting to be noticed.
Profile Image for Kristy.
9 reviews
May 26, 2012
The best part of the book was the Introduction, which does a great job of succinctly explaining how females in our generation and culture were raised to be passive and non-competitive, which works against them in their future careers by not teaching them how to negotiate for what they want. Whether that be salary, responsibilities, or titles, we are never encouraged to ask for what we've earned or what we deserve. It blew my mind and explained a lot! However, once you move into the main content of the book, it's like reading one long academic research thesis. The author constantly sites her own research, going into copious details about methodology and outcomes. What it never seems to do, however, is to teach women like me who were brought up not to stand up for ourselves HOW to stand up for ourselves. I'm hoping that the subsequent book "Ask For It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation To Get What They Really Want" gives me what I'm looking for. If you want to read the research, by all means read this book. If you want to get straight to the point, you may want to start with the 2nd title.
Profile Image for CJ.
421 reviews
March 21, 2009
A difficult book to read. I tend to think of myself as assertive and confident - then I noticed all the patterns I have courtesy of this book. Of course I want people to like me and I don't want them to think that I'm pushy or controlling. The end result is, I don't get what I want and then I'm unsatisfied (at best) or resentful and angry (at worst). I have found in my life that if I just open my mouth and ask for something, even if the answer is no, the world doesn't end and people don't walk away hating me. I'm working toward asking more and feeling less fear/guilt/intimidation about it.
Profile Image for Kal ★ Reader Voracious.
547 reviews187 followers
April 20, 2018
"The most striking finding...was that the students who had negotiated (most of them men) were able to increase their starting salaries by 7.4 percent on average, or $4,053--almost exactly the difference between the men's and women's average starting pay. This suggests that the salary differences between men and women might have been eliminated if the woman had negotiated their offers."
This book is a must-read for everyone. Even though this was published eleven years ago, the research still stands and is relevant to both men and women.

Women Don't Ask provides research and interview based data that seeks to explain a large reason for the gender pay gap: women compared to men do not negotiate. A failure to negotiate a starting salary, for instance, starts women at a $4,000 disadvantage - and they won't ever catch up through raises to cover that gap. The statistics and case studies presented in the book backs up what we have known for years, but it also provides useful recommendations to help women begin to negotiate and advocate for themselves.
"...our society still perpetuates rigid gender-based standards for behavior - standards that require women behave modestly and unselfishly and avoid promoting their own self interest. New generations of children are taught to abide by and internalize these standards...women who do rebel against these standards by pushing more overtly on their own behalf often risk being punished. Sometimes they're called 'bitchy'.."
Since reading this book I have become hyper aware of how the double standard that I have against people in power -- the same type of behavior by a woman in power rubs me the wrong way. I have also noticed that I approach work, conflict, and even in "selling myself" and my skills differently than my male counterparts. Even things as simple as discussing my experience in relation to job requirements is drastically different than my male colleagues, and this book opened my eyes to the behaviors that I can learn from them to be a stronger advocate for myself and other women in the workplace.

I cannot recommend this book enough to every person on this planet; every human can benefit from the research and suggestions presented in this book.

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Profile Image for Cyndie Courtney.
1,248 reviews6 followers
February 10, 2013
I found the book to not be very helpful at suggesting negotiation tips. They mostly spent the majority of the book telling me how despite my best efforts I still wouldn't negotiate as well as a man, and then one chapter telling me that I still had hope if I read several other books. Important topic but more reportive than constructive.

The more I think about this book the more frustrated and depressed it makes me, especially as I approach negotiations myself. I wouldn't recommend reading it if you don't want to end up feeling really cynical about being a woman.
Profile Image for Mark Muckerman.
426 reviews25 followers
October 14, 2011
As business books go, it was okay, and in the final analysis, I'm glad I read it. It did give me some broader perspectives on women in the workplace, and a new and DATA SUPPORTED viewpoint on behavioral traits in men and women. If you are a business leader who has, expects to have, or wants to have women on your team and to support them as effectively as you can, it begins with understanding. Women Don't Ask provides information, information supports understanding, and that can't help but make you more effective.

One other thing I liked is that the authors (by and large) refrained from crossing the line between research and analysis vs. blaming workplace gender inequity on "society" or "men". It's an easy path to go down, and a both attractive and slippery. However, I was satisfied that Babcock & Laschever generally maintained a good position of fact-based objectivity and minimized straying into "preaching".

All of that said, it could have been a 100 page book. The first 70 pages were solid and informative - research studies, results, interpretation and objectivity. On page 70, when the authors started to "blame societal viewpoints" and used gender-roles of Mr. & Mrs. PotatoHead from Toy Story as examples, the rating went from 4 stars to 3. 3 became a 2 in the last 100 pages - while one can appreciate a book that says "here's our info, do what you want to with it", I would have found more value with some fact based information and examples of what businesses, business leaders, and particularly men can do to support, develop and nurture women's assertiveness in the workplace.

Still beneficial, and all new knowledge is valuable.
Profile Image for Julie.
196 reviews10 followers
September 17, 2010
This book has certainly been making me think a hell of a lot, it's made me more observant of the subtle -- or non-subtle I had totally missed until now because they seem so "normal" -- ways in which girls and boys are treated and the expectations that are put upon them from early on, and how people (of both genders) react to things differently depending on the gender of the person who said or did it.

I really enjoyed all the studies described all along the book, as well as the insights the book provides in understanding where a lot of social expectations and pressures come from and how they shape and affect how people, including myself, behave or react to others' actions. Knowing this is helpful to understand people's behaviour better and hopefully would encourage the readers, no matter their gender, to negotiate better for themselves. I look forward to having a look at "Ask for it", the follow-up book which focuses on giving actual strategies to improve negotiation skills.
Profile Image for Hayley Hu.
100 reviews
March 10, 2021
A collection of facts and studies of women asking less and its potential reasons. Hopefully someone will publish a new one with up-to-date stats soon.
Profile Image for Angela.
502 reviews94 followers
March 17, 2010
Women Don't Ask starts off strong, making a powerful case that women's large wage discrepancies can be at least partly explained by their failure to negotiate better salaries and benefits for themselves, failure to ask for what they want, and consistent undervaluation of themselves. These differences don't arise out of nowhere, we learn; from a young age girls are discouraged from asserting their own desires and instructed to value relationships over promoting themselves. Unfortunately for women, there's not a convincing case to be made for trying to change this by asking directly for what they want: women who are too successful will promptly get packed off to "tame your inner bitch" camp. Women have, in short, learned not to ask because asking doesn't work.

Women are advised, as a practical response, to take a friendly negotiating tactic; we're told that women's more collaborative ways of interacting create better outcomes for both negotiators--when they're women. Unfortunately, while they're promoted as ushering in a new world order "to change the game entirely," these techniques apparently don't actually work when up against male-style, competitive negotiations. And indeed the story of the maligned HP CEO based not on her personality but on resentment of there being a woman in charge seems to indicate that once women reach a certain level of accomplishment, there may not be a strategy that will work.

Throw in some confusing and out of place bits about demanding your Haitian husband wear a condom, and that's pretty much the book. It makes a really convincing case that there's a problem, but I'm not sure it makes a convincing case that there's a solution, at least until that game is entirely changed. Meanwhile, those who work in traditionally male-dominated fields can't take a lot of comfort.
Profile Image for Kristina.
24 reviews
February 9, 2009
Overall, I was disappointed with this book. A lot of the attitude was so anti-male I had a hard time relating to the material. Particularly the last chapter on "domestic" negotiations, which basically implies all men sleep around and infect women with STDs so women need to "negotiate" using condoms. From an academic perspective, it was well-researched and explored a good deal of landmark studies cited related to the topic of negotiation, and that's why it gets the 2 stars. This book is best for those without a degree in the Social Sciences, as for me (with a master's degree in social science) it felt a underwhelming intellectually, and lacking insight. It works more as a literature review than any sort of forward-looking manifesto that I had expected. I much preferred Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office by Lois Frankel in terms of explaining gender difference in the workplace and how to best exploit those differences.
Profile Image for Kasandra.
Author 2 books43 followers
December 16, 2007
Excellent. Elucidates what I'm sure many women already knew, expected, or suspected with statistics and case studies that were often disheartening but important. Definitely eye-opening, illuminationg our society and profoundly different norms for men vs. women where negotiation is concerned. Made me wish I had read it earlier or had access to this information far sooner, both in my career and in my personal life. Not only should this be read by all working women, the men who work with them and hire them should read it too -- it shows how we routinely discriminate against women in situations where men are allowed and even expected to ask and behave far more assertively, and how women are often punished for "asking for more". It disturbs as it educates.
Profile Image for Layla.
26 reviews
June 28, 2009
I'm at the beginning of this book but so far I'm finding it very exciting. The basic idea is that women generally don't negotiate in situations in which they can. For example, a large percentage of women don't negotiate their starting salaries, and starting salaries are often on the low end because the employer expects that people will negotiate. Something like 60% of men do negotiate their starting salary. Researchers have calculated that over the course of a career negotiating your starting salary can increase the amount of money you have by half a million dollars -- just from that one-time negotiation! Also, there's evidence that employers will lose regard for individuals who do not negotiate their salary - the sentiment being that you're worth what you ask for.
Profile Image for Kirila.
271 reviews9 followers
November 3, 2014
This book is about why women don't excel at negotiations as much as man do and how they approach them differently. The part I liked the best was the beginning, which gives the psychology background and reasons of how even the smallest comments and unconscious actions of our parents shape who we are. I also found later parts, which describe a way to embrace our femininity to excel, very intriguing. The book was quite a slow read for me because after each paragraph I would stop and think of situations in my life that match the current topic. The thing I didn't like about it was that the commentary is very repetitive. I realize the same aspects of our upbringing and personality can apply in multiple fields, but hearing the same arguments and conclusions again and again was a bit tiresome.
Profile Image for Erin.
90 reviews
October 3, 2011
This is an excellent book that should probably be read by all women as they walk out the door of college in search of a "first job," but it's not too late to add this to the reading list for my peer group out there on job 5 or 10. I attended a conference a few years ago that brought this book to my attention and I completely credit it with giving me the confidence to ask for (and receive) better pay, better hours, and a much more enjoyable job situation. You can't get what you want if you don't ask...

Profile Image for Bella Swann.
Author 23 books145 followers
January 28, 2014
I really liked this book. It gave a lot of information on the reasons why women often don't negotiate, why women often negotiate better for the needs of others than for themselves, and why men see more of life as negotiable. This book looked at social, cultural, and biological factors as well as unconscious biases that both men and women hold towards assertive women who exercise leadership. This book also gave practical suggestions on how women should negotiate in different situations. I will definitely be re-reading this book again in the future.
Profile Image for Calley.
25 reviews2 followers
October 28, 2016
I wish this book was a little more instructive, instead of including about a thousand vignettes with interviewees, like Sue is a district attorney...Janet is an architect...Noreen is set designer...Paula is an orchestral violinist... blah, blah, blah. At the end of the day, I wanted to know more about how to OVERCOME the gender divide, and not be bashed over the head for the millionth time about how, YES, it sucks to be a woman in a competitive work environment. GIVE ME TOOLS NOT STATS.
Profile Image for Jung.
41 reviews13 followers
February 27, 2008
excellent book for everyone to read, especially, of course women and those who work with women. makes you think twice about assuming what is negotiable. saw a presentation by the co-author Sara Laschever and she was awesome. follow up book: Ask For It provides more practical advice on negotiating.
Profile Image for Jamila.
35 reviews21 followers
December 8, 2018
Relatable, infuriating, and inspiring. This is a very readable book that helped illuminate some of the societal teachings and reinforcements that have informed my view of and approach to negotiation. Despite having learned tactics before, this book helped explain the mindsets that have been holding me back from effectively wielding some of those tactics. A helpful, quick read.
12 reviews
June 11, 2009
This book is a great book for women in business. This book stresses that women often shy away from negotiation for fear of straining work relationships. This book offers tips on how to negotiate and not be afraid to ask for the resources you need to better do your job.
Profile Image for Gina.
90 reviews1 follower
August 18, 2013
This book really helped me switch my perspective with respect to job negotiations. After the first few chapters though, it became a little repetitive to me, so I ended up putting it down before I finished reading it.
Profile Image for Samantha Hines.
Author 7 books12 followers
June 30, 2016
This book is a must-read. Not only does it offer sound analysis and useful advice to help move women forward, it also explains how traditional negotiating techniques by women can be a strength. Way better than Lean In.
24 reviews
January 3, 2015
Great book on communication for women. Good advice on why asking and direct communication will be most effective.
272 reviews
July 31, 2020
A book which inundates you with facts from scientific research demonstrating that, as a woman, you're 1) unfairly perceived to be a crap leader and negotiator, 2) you're genuinely more of a crap leader and negotiator, and 3) you're helpless to change this because of the way society works. Oh, and 4) no one seems to recognise this due to their (and your) inherent unconscious biases, so you'll feel like you're taking crazy pills if you even suspect that this is holding you back. When you try to talk to anyone about it, it confirms their biases that you're overly emotional, and then they see you as just a whinger who won't take responsibility for your own personal deficits. Fun, fun.

There aren't many suggestions about what you can do about all this, apart from 'try harder to be liked', be 'softer' and more 'people-oriented', don't transgress your assigned 'gender role', and don't work for companies that don't already have a lot of women in leadership positions. If you're not particularly likeable, or if you naturally have an aggressive or opinionated style then you're shit out of luck. Sorry.

Do try to get a male mentor who will advocate for you on your behalf (since people will hate you if you try and do it on your own)... but it'll be really hard because they will set a higher bar for your performance before they will consider helping you, you're unlikely to meet one because they move in male-exclusive social circles, and also they won't feel comfortable being around you because of the 'implication' of what it might look like.

At the very end of the book, the authors concede that there are some advantages to being a female negotiator - but only if your male counterpart will 'let' you use them.

Look, this was a depressing, rage-inducing read.
Profile Image for elvira.
135 reviews14 followers
November 18, 2022
bueno. me lo he comido con patatas.

pros: toda la razón del mundo, se sentía muy dirigido a mí a veces, mi comportamiento y people’s pleaser tendencies tienen todo que ver con como soy leída. interesantes puntos de vista en los q se da mazo agencia a las mujeres y aun así tienen en cuenta el poder de la estructura en la forma de ser de la gente

contras: se nota q tiene 20 años y q prestan 0 atención a repensar las categorías hombre-mujer, explicitamente deciden ignorar temas raciales y dicen alguna q otra barbaridad biologicista y clasista (y la comparación final eeuu-haiti me ha parecido mazo heavy). además está muy orientado al mundo del trabajo, al tema de negociar salarios y de que las mujeres estén en posiciones de liderazgo dentro de la economía etc.

dicho esto, lo recomiendo. aunque solo sea para mirar x encima, siento q no está de más que nos digan que está bien pedir lo que queremos/merecemos, aunque sea bajo una lente algo liberal. a aplicarme el cuento!!!! this is gonna be my joker now. la proxima vez q me pongan té verde en vez de negro se van a enterar, solo diré Gracias una vez

(le pongo 3 estrellas porque tp creo q sea un libro maravilloso, pero a mi personalmente me ha servido mazo y creo q lo llevaré en la mochila de skills durante mucho tiempo
Profile Image for Kylie Q. Rada.
504 reviews9 followers
April 5, 2021
2.5 stars. I heard a presentation based on this book a few years ago at a Women in Business conference, and honestly, the presentation was more impactful than the book itself. I picked up a few beneficial odds and ends, but for the most part, the language and viewpoint were outdated enough to leave a not-great taste in my mouth, and I came away not really having learned anything of value. A solid premise, but a lackluster execution. Thankfully, this was very short, so I didn't waste too much time on it.
39 reviews1 follower
May 19, 2022
An important read to think through small and big interactions. A call for women to be more of a pain in the ass to everyone around them.
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