After unsuccessfully suing her Venture Capital firm employer for sexual discrimination, Ellen Pao – darling of the Silicon Valley feminists, has now resigned as interim chief executive of Reddit. Pao, who had been at the company only eight months, put every effort into ridding Reddit of harassment. Pao made it one of her first moves to ban salary negotiations at the social media company. Burned by her own experiences, she seeks to eliminate gender bias. Many question the utility of this option, saying women should be able to negotiate their salaries as well as any man. In an ideal world, this would be true. However, research routinely shows even if we teach women to ‘negotiate like a man’, it’s not a great idea as we then penalise them for it, by describing them as ‘unseemly, selfish or shrewish’ when then do. In fact, other research from 2012 showed American men were more likely to give a better deal to women who flirted and flattered than women who adopted a gender neutral ‘let’s get down to business’ approach.
A follow-up study by business professor Laura Kray, found that type of ‘feminine charm’ worked because it put me in a more positive mood. Negotiating salary and other benefits makes the assumption that top talent want that type of approach. Kray however, found that undergraduate business students, particularly the women were turned off by the idea of working for companies that sacrificed fairness for profit. So a ’no negotiation’ policy may work best, particularly if you want to attract people who have historically been disadvantaged by salary negotiations; women and ethnic minorities.
As Kray wrote in the Washington Post: ‘A no-negotiation policy implies that an employer pays based on a job’s market value, rather than based on a job’s actual market value, rather than based on subjective individual characteristics. Laszlo Bock, chief of people operations at Google, recently extolled the virtues of this principle for eliminating the pay gap. Even making offers based on an individual’s salary history can perpetuate the problem, he noted. ‘We figure out what the job is worth, not the person,’ he said during a talk in Washington.’ Pao’s solution may be unconventional and will almost certainly continue to ruffle feathers, but we like that’s it’s an attempt to solve a real-world, rather than ideal world problem.