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How Gender and Status Shape Productivity-Related Negotiations

Most research that has explored the role of gender and workplace status in shaping negotiation outcomes has examined formal settings where there are clearly defined norms or behavioral scripts, such as salary negotiations. Yet, employees frequently engage in negotiations outside of formal settings, and for resources other than money. Thus, we tested how gender and workplace status shape people’s willingness to engage in an informal negotiation with implications for productivity and wellbeing: asking for extra time on a work deadline. In Studies 1 and 2, we recruited respondents from Kenya and the US, respectively. Across studies, both gender and status predicted the willingness to ask for time; however, different mediational profiles emerged. Women felt less comfortable making an extension request due to a fear of burdening their managers. Lower status individuals felt less comfortable making the request because they were concerned with appearing incompetent. It is possible that any interaction with a manager might be seen as a competence threat for lower status employees. To rule out this possibility, in Study 3, participants were randomly assigned to consider asking for more time or accepting an offer for more time from one’s manager. Again, women (vs. men) and lower status employees felt less comfortable asking vs. accepting an extension. These studies shed light on when and how gender and workplace status shape people’s willingness to engage in informal negotiations that could improve the quality of their work and their work-life balance.

Ashley Whillans
Harvard Business School
United States

Hannah Riley Bowles
Harvard Kennedy School
United States


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