Revisiting what women need to do to ‘lean in’

Harvard Kennedy School Senior Lecturer Hannah Riley Bowles researched the effects of gender in negotiations for higher pay.
Harvard Kennedy School Senior Lecturer Hannah Riley Bowles researched the effects of gender in negotiations for higher pay.Martha Stewart

The Boston Globe presents the Harvard Kennedy School PolicyCast, a weekly podcast on public policy, politics, and global issues. HKS PolicyCast is hosted by Matt Cadwallader.

Many women have adopted a more assertive stance in their career negotiations since Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg's bestselling book "Lean In" hit the shelves more than two years ago, but research suggests it may have come at some cost.

"What we've found in numerous studies is that women pay a higher social cost from negotiating assertively for compensation than do men," says Harvard Kennedy School Senior Lecturer Hannah Riley Bowles.

"A lot of women feel a sense of nervousness or reticence — maybe even icky feeling — and one of the things that I've tried to show in my research is that actually, that feeling isn't about some sort of lack of competence or self-confidence. It actually reflects an accurate reading of the social situation."

This week on the Harvard Kennedy School PolicyCast we revisit a 2014 interview with Bowles, in which she discusses her research on gender in negotiations and offers advice for women trying to negotiate higher pay.


"What we've found in our research is that women can both get what they want and make the impression that they want if they do two things, and one is to explain to the person that they're negotiating with why they're negotiating . . . And then you also want to signal that you are thinking about organizational relationships — that you are thinking in 'we' terms."

In the full interview, which you can listen to in the embedded player above or download on iTunes, Bowles gives recommendations on how women can shift the odds in their favor in negotiations, explains how her research has exposed the detrimental effect of ambiguity, and emphasizes the importance of open access to information about pay.


"What's terrific about enhancing transparency is that you don't need to do away with stereotypes or change the whole structure of society. Simply by giving people better information . . . you can do away with these gender effects."

• How does your research square with Sheryl Sandberg's message of leaning in? (0:31)

• Are these based on societal norms that are changing? (2:28)

• What are your recommendations for women? (3:40)

• Do these negotiating tactics extend to other situations aside from pay? (6:39)

• How has your research shown this imbalance? (9:57)

• What are the policy implications of this research? (12:52)

• What information would clear up the ambiguity that you believe to be detrimental? (16:50)