A collection of articles about "why women don't negotiate" has been making the rounds. Here are a few of the links: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/12/dont-just-ask-why-women-dont-negotiate/249368/http://motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2011/12/ask-more
and the related reddit thread. (I can't tell if this spawned the series of articles.)http://www.reddit.com/r/TwoXChromosomes/comments/hvv2m/i_work_for_a_large_multinational_tech_company_i/
Ok, so women are caught in a catch-22: don't ask, and you won't get more money. Ask, and people won't (like you/want to hire you/want to work with you/...).
So why are so many of these articles just telling women to learn how to negotiate? Ok, sure, that's good advice, for all of us who aren't strong negotiators, including both women and men. After all, men who aren't strong negotiators are also penalized financially for a lack of negotiating skills.
of these articles are discussing how to solve the problem that women who negotiate are perceived negatively (& presumably treated worse). I feel like I'm in an alternate universe, Joseph Heller's in fact, where apparently intelligent people seem to think it makes sense to tell someone to work harder to escape a catch-22.
How about, especially for those in director level positions or higher - expose (even anonymously, on reddit), your company's bizarre wage negotiation rules, that reward negotiating skills even when that skill is not otherwise related to the job. Coach everyone who works for you, and anyone else that you have any sort of mentoring relationship with, so they understand what they should be asking for. Women and men both. Argue for transparency in wages at your company. Promote tight coupling of wages to job title plus experience, or whatever formula makes sense in your business, as long as it's well-publicized within the company, so that everyone who gets hired or promoted into an equivalent position actually gets an equivalent wage. Go to your HR department and ask them to do an analysis of wages within your company, and see if there are any imbalances that don't make sense (both when you do and don't factor in years of experience & education), whether it's gender, race, age, national origin, or some other factor. If there are imbalances, start a conversation with the leaders of the company (again, director level and above), discussing whether this is actually how you want to run your business.
I'm not an expert on these matters, and I'm sure there are problems with all of those ideas, that people will call out in the comments, if many people read this. But that kind of misses my point - we should at least be discussing ways to get past this, not just telling women "negotiate!"
And those ideas don't even touch on the deeper feminist question of how we can get the world we live in to respect and value strong women who ask for what they deserve.
A related question ... how many people (who are strong negotiators) are reading these articles and thinking "Yes! I love imbalances, I can game them to my advantage!" There are a lot of these people, I'm sure, and none of these articles mention them, either. These are the people who are going to resist openness about salaries, and any kind of company wide efforts to correct imbalances, whether they're associated with gender, race, age, or something else irrelevant.
(It's possible that both of these points eventually came up in the reddit comments, but not in the ones I read, and I read more than a few.)