The XX Factor

Maybe It’s Time for Employers to Stop Being So Sexist When Women Ask for Raises

More persuasive, less feminine, please.

Photo by rui vale sousa/Shutterstock

This week, the New York Times published a salary negotiation guide for women. The primer aims to help female employees ask for raises with a careful blend of masculine aggression and feminine deference that’s been proven to disarm employers who secretly hate women who act like men, or women who act like women, or women who act like themselves.

Here’s how it works: When women “advocate for themselves,” the Times reports, some employers “find it unseemly, if on a subconscious level.” So women should “take a more calibrated approach” to avoid “being perceived as overly demanding and unlikable.” They ought to be “persuasive,” yet “feminine enough” to show “they care about maintaining good relationships as well as the communal good over themselves.” Negotiation tips that work for men should be “softened” to apply to women. Leveraging an outside offer of employment might “seem like a prime opportunity to negotiate,” unless you are female, in which case the offer “can be perceived as a threat,” so women should “craft” their “language” to approach it as a “dialogue” as opposed to a “negotiation.” And because “keeping all this in mind isn’t easy,” experts “suggest role-playing the situation with a friend or partner.”


The Times guide is the latest tract that tells women to overcome the double standards of the workplace by just trying harder (but also, softer). This form of feminist boot-strapping has previously been touted in Forbes, Lean In, and at universities across the country. The conventional wisdom is that it is the female employee’s responsibility to navigate the sexist demands of her office, because her employers have no incentive to make it any easier for her to get a raise. “We are asking women to juggle while they are on the tightrope,” Carnegie Mellon University professor Linda C. Babcock told the Times. “It’s totally unfair because we don’t require the same thing of men. But if women want to be successful in this domain, they need to pay attention to this.”


I have noticed that although there is much advice out there for women hoping to negotiate a better salary, there is very little guidance for employers, who are, after all, in the unenviable position of having to police how “feminine” a worker’s “dialogue” is. One option for bosses is to not be so sexist. Potential benefits of not being so sexist include:

  • Your female employees will spend less time “role-playing” with friends and more time working.
  • Your budget will become a lot more manageable when you learn to fight off your unexplainable urge to give every man a raise just because he asks.
  • You’ll lose fewer women to competing companies if women feel they can discuss outside offers with you without appearing as a “threat” for admitting they like working for you and want to stay there.
  • Your job will be much more pleasant once you stop thinking of half of your employees as “unseemly” for reasons you can’t quite put your finger on.
  • Productivity will rise when women in your workplace no longer believe that you subconsciously hate and fear them.

Keeping all of this in mind isn’t easy, but if employers want to be successful in this domain, they need to pay attention to this. May I suggest role-playing with a friend?