Or, as a new study finds, they’re seen as easy targets for deceivers.
Laura J. Kraya and Alex B. Van Zanta from the University of California, Berkeley and Jessica A. Kennedy from the University of Pennsylvania conducted three experiments to find out whether women are more likely to be lied to. They found, as they write, “Negotiators act opportunistically by deceiving women more frequently than men.”
In the first study, they had participants act as if they were prospective sellers in a negotiation and rate a potential buyer, where the buyer was either clearly female, clearly male, or gender neutral. They found that male buyers were rated as less easily misled than female ones and that the women were expected to be slightly less competent but more warm. The results were the same whether the study participant was a woman or a man. “Warmth…may decrease women’s resistance to lies because directly confronting deception is considered impolite,” they write. The second study bore that out, finding that “high warmth increased the expectation [from study participants] that a negotiator would be easily misled.” If negotiators assume that women are easier to lie to, it’s likely that they’ll do some lying.
Then the researchers examined negotiations between business school students who did face-to-face role-playing exercises that were graded. They were put in pairs where one acted as an agent selling a piece of real estate property on behalf of a client who only wanted it used for “tasteful” and preferably residential purposes, while the other acted as an agent for a buyer who planned to build a commercial high-rise hotel catered to tourists and convention visitors, “a use inconsistent with the seller’s interests,” the authors note. That meant the buyer’s agent could either tell the truth, endangering the deal, misrepresent the client’s plans, or just tell an outright lie.
They found that the women playing a seller’s agent “were deceived to a greater degree than male sellers.” And buyers were more likely to admit that they had deceived women — 22 percent of them did — than to men — 5 percent. It didn’t matter whether a man or a woman was representing the buyer; they both deceived women at the same rate. To add insult to injury, buyers were more likely to be blatantly deceptive with women than with men, but they were more likely to be outright truthful with men.
They also found that pairs with female sellers reached more deals than those with male sellers “because buyers were more likely to deceive female sellers than male sellers” so the women thought they were getting a good deal when they weren’t.
Why would women get lied to more? Given that they’re seen as being less competent and less likely to call out deception, “women may elicit deception if negotiators act opportunistically.”
“Women typically perform worse than men at the bargaining table due in part to stereotype threat and backlash,” they write. “Deception could exacerbate these problems.”
There is some evidence that women may negotiate pay at similar rates as men and sometimes drive harder bargains. But those who don’t may refrain because they know the cards will be stacked against them.
The research adds to the evidence that women are at a disadvantage in negotiations. When managers are told they have a limited amount of money to give out in raises and they have to negotiate with employees, they start out by giving men two and a half times more money than they plan to give women before discussions begin. And among equally proactive and ambitious employees using the same advancement tactics, men are twice as likely to get ahead than women.
Meanwhile, those women who do drive a hard bargain are penalized for it. Both men and women are less likely to want to hire or work with women who ask for raises, but men don’t face those repercussions. Research has found that women are hit with social and financial penalties for acting assertively and asking for more in a negotiation.