October 17, 2012
Keep your binders and your flirting and give me equality
I just read about some research that seems to prove women can get ahead in the workplace with a little bit of good, old-fashioned ... flirting.
Ha. You thought I was going to say hard work, huh?
Nope, flirting. That's right, baby. I'm batting my eyelashes right at you.
The University of California's Haas School of Business study, "Feminine Charm: An Experimental Analysis of its Costs and Benefits in Negotiations," was published this month in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Flirtatiousness, female friendliness, or the more diplomatic description "feminine charm" is an effective way for women to gain negotiating mileage, according to one of the study's co-authors, Professor Laura Kray.
But not just any old flirting will do. There seems to be a science to the most productive office flirting, which is not overt sexual advances but "authentic, engaging behavior without serious intent."
The study found that female flirtation signals attractive qualities such as confidence, considered essential to successful negotiation. More about part of the study from UC Berkeley:
"The researchers asked subjects to imagine they were selling a car worth $1,200 and asked for how much would they sell the car. Next, the subjects read one of two scenarios about a potential buyer named Sue. The first group meets Sue, who shakes hands when she meets the seller, smiles, and says, "It's a pleasure to meet you," and then, "What's your best price?" in a serious tone. The second group reads an alternate scenario in which Sue greets the seller by smiling warmly, looking the seller up and down, touching the seller's arm, and saying, "You're even more charming than over email," followed by a playful wink, and asking, "What's your best price?"
The result? Male sellers were willing to give the "playful Sue" more than $100 off the selling price whereas they weren't as willing to negotiate with the "serious Sue." Playful Sue's behavior did not affect female car sellers.
Kray said many women professionals love to flirt and do not consider it unprofessional if it "remains playful and friendly."
Maybe it's because I still have the taste of the second presidential debate in my mouth, in which Mitt Romney said in response to a very serious question about pay inequalities that he sought out "binders full of women" for his state cabinet and kindly allowed a female employee to go home before 7 p.m. so she could be with her family and cook dinner.
Maybe it's because I know that American women who work full-time year-round are paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts for equal work. Maybe it's because I know this gap translates to $10,784 less per year in median earnings. Maybe it's because I know that for minority women the gap is even wider.
Maybe it's because most politicians have refused to address this startling injustice as well as related issues such as paid parental leave, and many employers are still in the Dark Ages when it comes to policies that support families.
So I'm just not in the mood for flirting right now. I'm pissed off. I'm tired of this. I'm a hard-working woman who sure as heck wants to -- expects to -- be paid the same for my experience, education, work and value as any male employee would be. I want to be offered paid leave if I need it medically, including for birthing a child. I want to leave work when it's time to and not be penalized or passed over because I have somewhere to go.
It's nobody's business whether I cook dinner or order in.
So this woman isn't going to be flirting to get ahead. She's busy trying to argue for fair pay and prove her value through the quality of her work. If that doesn't communicate confidence, no amount of eyelash batting will.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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