Cantillon: Let’s teach negotiation skills in the classroom

Why, despite their obvious academic acumen, do females continue to be under-represented and underpaid at most levels of professional life?

In her book, Lean In, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg bemoans women’s reluctance to negotiate. Photograph: Pascal Lauener/Reuters

In her book, Lean In, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg bemoans women’s reluctance to negotiate. Photograph: Pascal Lauener/Reuters

Thu, Aug 15, 2013, 01:00

If life really was a gender war (and who says it isn’t?) girls should have a huge advantage. Every year the Leaving Cert results show girls outperforming boys, while women are also more likely to have a third-level qualification than men.

Take the example of two sister schools in south Dublin: Coláiste Íosagáin for girls and Coláiste Eoin for boys. Both Gaelscoileanna, they are in the same grounds, have the same ethos, and have the same board of management. However, figures from 2011 show girls are leaving the boys in the shade, with 92 per cent progressing to high-points courses compared to 74 per cent of the boys.

So why, despite their obvious academic acumen, do females continue to be under-represented – and underpaid – at most levels of professional life?

You don’t have to look very far to find overwhelming evidence that this is the case. Just take a look at yesterday’s newspaper, for example, which showed that the best paid women in corporate America were still paid, on average, 18 per cent less than men. Or what about a salary survey from the Chartered Accountants Leinster Society, also in yesterday’s paper? While it didn’t give a breakdown on how earning power was divided between the sexes, it did report that just 37 per cent of its members are female.

Women are failing to fulfil their promise in the workplace and are failing to get adequately paid when they do advance up the ladder.

In Lean In, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg bemoans women’s reluctance to negotiate. She’s speaking from experience – when Mark Zuckerberg interviewed her for her role at the social networking giant, she was going to accept the first offer he made. Even the most successful women still find it difficult to negotiate.

So maybe it’s time to bring negotiation skills out of the boardroom and into the classroom. If girls can shine at topics as diverse as agricultural science and construction studies, maybe they can also learn how to sell themselves.

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