Postcards

How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Are women lousy negotiators?

June 2, 2011: 9:54 AM ET

"If a man cuts himself with a razor, it's the razor's fault," quipped Bettina Whyte, a managing director at corporate turnaround advisory firm Alvarez & Marsal. "But if a woman cuts herself with a razor, she wonders, 'What did I do wrong?'"

That was just one of the, umm, razor-sharp comments at a panel discussion during private equity firm Solera Capital's annual meeting last week. Solera, which is run by founding chairman and CEO Molly Ashby, is often noted for it's commitment to diversity-- hence the discussion topic, "Women: Power and Success."

The conversation, which was led by my Fortune colleague Pattie Sellers, addressed women's abilities to argue for themselves. "Women are bad at negotiating," said Julie Daum, who is a go-to recruiter for companies interested in bringing on more women to their boards. Daum, who works for executive search firm Spencer Stuart, noted that women often start working at smaller base salaries because they typically accept opening financial offers as fair. To a man, that same offer is often "an opening gambit," Daum said.

In an email exchange following the discussion, Daum expanded on her point: "It is not just [women's] initial packages. It is throughout their career. When they make changes to another organization or get promoted, they tend to do less negotiating."

Bettina Whyte argued that women "do not use money to validate themselves."

Former WNBA chief Donna Orender noted, though, that while some women may find it difficult to negotiate for themselves, women can be very strong negotiators in other business deals.

Postcards is no stranger to this topic. Susan Wilson, CEO of the Judgment group, asked, "Are girls afraid of money?" on the site in April. And last week, Gerry Laybourne, who founded Oxygen Media, claimed that women "don't know how to toot [their] own horns."

Laybourne suggested, "If you don't toot your own horn, toot another woman's horn." Indeed, Whyte contended with her own reluctance to discuss pay with her bosses by hiring a female attorney to argue on her behalf.

Do you agree that women are bad at negotiating for themselves? What can women do to resolve the problem?

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About This Author
Colleen Leahey
Colleen Leahey
Fortune

Colleen Leahey joined Fortune in May 2011 to cover leadership, technology, and small business. She also focuses on building the Fortune Most Powerful Women franchise in the digital and live media space and manages programming for the MPW Summit. Previously, Colleen worked at The New Yorker and Bicycling magazine. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and lives in Manhattan.

Email Colleen Leahey | @cmleahey
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