One reason women make less than men: they ask for less. Maybe?

Lots of interesting discussion all across the blog-o-web over a Reddit thread by a hiring manager discussing why women are underpaid relative to men in his workplace — they fail to negotiate for a good starting salary, or negotiate poorly. The discussion on Reddit is intense, with various anecdotes and theories being bandied about. There have also been some interesting responses elsewhere, including citations of studies about how women are treated differently than men in identical circumstances. Anyway, the most insightful comment I’ve seen on the matter was this one at the Atlantic by one Carl Pham:

You might adduce the general argument traditionally made by evolutionary psychologists: that women are inherently more conservative than men, i.e. they fear loss more than they hope for gain, compared to men.

This has always been the argument for why men are overwhelmingly more likely to take big risks in search of big payoffs — why test pilots are men, explorers are men, inventors more likely to be men, et cetera — and why women are more likely not to go bankrupt, turn to crime and violence to achieve their ends, pay their bills on time, and so on.

It may be this idea, if it is valid, extends to interpersonal negotiations, in the sense that women are seeking more to minimize net losses while men are seeking to maximize net gains. Mathematically, those might be the same thing, but in practice, they are not, and furthermore people with those ends in mind will often choose different means.

Myself, I fail to see why we can’t simply adapt our methods and expectations to the sex of the person at issue. Men should expect to use different methods and have different expectations when negotiating with women, and vice versa. We are not identical human-bots. What’s wrong with that?

All around, an interesting and important discussion, all the more interesting to me because it has so far not generally been particularly populated by people looking to place blame. It is clear that like any question in this genre the “obvious” causes may actually be effects, the “clear” remedies may be wrong, and no one has a complete understanding of all the factors involved.