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Assertiveness Training for Women
Erica Barnett, 7 Aug 07
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Traditional explanations for the persistent worldwide wage gap between women and men focus largely on what women are doing wrong (or, more charitably, what society has failed to teach women to do). Studies have revealed, for example, that women tend to be far less likely to negotiate for a higher salary or better benefits when they first get a job--indeed, starting with their very first job. This wage gap may not be significant at first; over time, however, it widens exponentially. If you accept the premise that assertiveness (or lack thereof) is at least partly learned, it stands to reason that girls could learn to be more assertive negotiators; therefore, the standard solution for the wage gap has been to train women and girls to be more assertive. Teach them to ask for more, the theory goes, and they'll do it.

One problem with this theory is that it may not hold up in practice; women who behave assertively, according to a recent study, are regarded more negatively and are more likely to be perceived as incompetent. Men who behave assertively, meanwhile, tend to be generally admired and are often rewarded financially. The fault, then, resides at least partly in the person perceiving the woman, not the woman herself.

Another problem with this theory is revealed by another recent study, which found that "haggling" carries a social cost for women that is not borne by men. The study presented 119 volunteers with descriptions male and female candidates, described as "exceptionally qualified," who tried to negotiate a higher salary. The researchers found that while both men and women were penalized by volunteers for trying to negotiate, the effect for women was more than twice as large as it was for men. A second group of volunteers viewed videos of men and women asking for a higher salary for a job. Men tended to rule against women who negotiated but were less likely to rule against men; women tended to penalize both men and women who negotiated.

Both men and women were more likely to subtly penalize women who asked for more -- the perception was that women who asked for more were "less nice".

"What we found across all the studies is men were always less willing to work with a woman who had attempted to negotiate than with a woman who did not," Bowles said. "They always preferred to work with a woman who stayed mum. But it made no difference to the men whether a guy had chosen to negotiate or not."

The conclusion, according to one of the researchers: "It isn't about telling women, 'You need self-confidence or training.' They are responding to incentives within the social environment."

So women are less assertive, but it's training, not nature, that makes them so. What, then, do we do about it? Paradoxically, teaching girls to be more assertive may be part of the solution: As societies get more and more accustomed to women who stand up for themselves the way men routinely do, the stigma (and corollary penalties) attached to aggression will slowly go away. Moreover, the more women make their way into positions of authority, the more women are likely to try to negotiate; according to the same study, both women and were more likely to negotiate with another woman than with a man.

A second solution is suggested by Amanda Marcotte, who points to collective action at MIT as a potential model in the battle against wage bias. By examining MIT's unequal treatment of male and female scientists, a group of female professors got MIT to admit it had systematically discriminated against women, and respond by dramatically increasing the salary, space, and resources allocated to its female professors. By next year, MIT's dean of science estimated, the number of tenured women will increase some 40 percent. None of the progress at MIT would have happened without a loud group of women speaking up--saying "this isn't right, and we're not going to take it anymore." Aggressiveness, in other words, is not a bad thing, but it will take time, and collective action, to pay dividends in women's lives.

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This article lets itself down at the end by letting in the word "aggressiveness" as if it were a synonym for assertiveness. The point she made about the MIT women is that they made a case methodically and scientifically, not aggressively.
Aggression either breeds aggressive male-dominated organisations, or it back fires.

Posted by: Antony Melville on 13 Aug 07

"As a communication style and strategy, assertiveness is distinguished from aggression and passivity. How people deal with personal boundaries; their own and those of other people, helps to distinguish between these three concepts. Passive communicators do not defend their own personal boundaries and thus allow aggressive people to harm or otherwise unduly influence them. They are also typically not likely to risk trying to influence anyone else. Aggressive people do not respect the personal boundaries of others and thus are liable to harm others while trying to influence them. A person communicates assertively by not being afraid to speak his or her mind or trying to influence others, but doing so in a way that respects the personal boundaries of others. They are also willing to defend themselves against aggressive incursions." Wikipedia.

We live in a complex as we look at practical solutions we need to be cautious to avoid "throwing the baby out with the bath water."

The economic pressures which have forced men and women to seek employment outside the traditional home is one of the root causes of dis-ease in our society.

By natural (divine) design, women have maternal and nurturing instincts. Men were, are, or should be the protectors of women and children, to wit: families.

Please bear with me a moment...hold the above thoughts and think about how that image of family life has changed since you were a child...without judgment...

When I was a child my mother did not work outside the home, she was a full time WORKING MOTHER...and my father worked full time (and unfortunately more) supporting our family of five. Today that lifestyle is difficult to maintain due to current economic pressures for many families. Why is that so?

Perhaps we need to rethink our current economic trends and reflect upon our insatiable appetites for consumer goods. We live in a disposable society; disposable razors, disposable diapers, disposable cans, disposable bottles, disposable relationships, disposable employees, and disposable income....

The mass educational institutions are designed to create masses of people willing to work to feed the insatiable appetite of a corporate world which by it's very nature consumes irreplaceable natural resources...AGGRESSIVELY! Please re-read the above definition of aggressive: "...liable to harm others while trying to influence them...."

TRUE WORLD CHANGING will require nothing short of a paradigm shift in consciousness starting with ourselves.

I am not sure that individual assertive communication to aggressive people will result in a positive outcome. Perhaps aggressively asserting
your point of view will solicit the desired response to your proposal:=)

Posted by: Stephen Alish-TaSen on 26 Aug 07



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