The fear is real

Image by Drew Graham

Image by Drew Graham


warranted but not crippling.

I have listened to countless webinars and classes on women in negotiations, I have attended dozens of women in leadership conferences where negotiation experts are quick to assure women that “if you allow us to help you with how to prepare for negotiations,” or “if you adjust your tone of voice just so when delivering your ask, or use certain words, then backlash won’t occur.” I don’t prescribe to that message! From personal experience and countless stories that others have shared with me, let me tell you, there is no guarantee against backlash. Backlash is a result of either explicit or implicit bias, and while one can generally see when somebody is explicitly biased against women empowerment, implicit bias all too often goes unrecognized until it’s too late. I will talk more about implicit bias later on and how to spot it and combat it.

My attitude towards existence of backlash is different! I don’t ignore the possibility of backlash. My theory is:

if we recognize what’s possible, then we can prepare for it.

It’s when we are taken by surprise that we start floundering in uncharted waters gasping for air.  

Image by Oscar Keys

Image by Oscar Keys

So, why don’t more women negotiate on their own behalf? One might say, that women should just take the matter of gender pay gap into their own hands and negotiate for more. There have been plenty of women whom I have met who certainly knew their value, and knew they deserved more, yet they shied away from negotiations. The answer to what holds so many women back from asking for more is simple yet profound: FEAR. Most men can’t relate to that fear because the phenomenon of backlash is not a common occurrence as a result of men’s negotiation on self-behalf. It is, however, an all too common situation among women. And it’s important for men (our allies, our mentors, our sponsors) to know about this huge obstacle that seems sometimes insurmountable.

Backlash is a negative reaction against women whose behavior goes against gender stereotype. Gender stereotype of women: warmth, friendliness, helpfulness. Gender stereotype of men: independence, ambition, industriousness. See the difference? The cruelest thing though is that in order for women to appear competent we need to exhibit assertiveness and confidence. However, acting in that way on our own behalf is directly incongruent to our gender stereotype, thus exposing women to punitive actions and negative attitudes against them. Women are caught in the dilemma of “damned if they do and doomed if they don’t.”


warmth, friendliness, helpfulness


independence, ambition, industriousness

From my personal experience, many conversations with other women, as well as backup from multiple research studies, the reason why many women don’t ask for more on their own behalf is because of the fear of backlash that comes in two forms: social and financial.

Social backlash

Social backlash presents in a form where the woman acting assertively in self-interest is perceived as difficult to work with, or not as ‘warm’ or ‘nice’. Social backlash taints one’s reputation resulting in poorer feedback, fewer opportunities to move up, and reduces access to mentors and sponsors, which inadvertently leads to long-term financial implications for women.

Financial backlash

Financial backlash comes in a form of retaliation, where a woman is fired or demoted due to her assertiveness in self-promotion. And while retaliation itself is illegal, it’s also a known fact that it is hard to prove and can come in other much subtler forms.


Either way, backlash is extremely taxing on women, physically and mentally, and it undermines greatly our potential. While one can be taught ways to negotiate and prepare to advocate on their own behalf with all the tools that are available out there, there is no guarantee from backlash occurring.

So is backlash inevitable? Of course not! Through rigorous research, it’s been proven that there are some circumstances under which backlash is less likely to occur, such as:

  • In situations where resources are abundant, so distributing them to a female won’t affect the respondent

  • When request is made by a woman of high status; such requests are seen through a position/status point of view, not gendered point of view

  • In instances, where a woman is advocating for the benefit of others, which is completely congruent with gendered stereotype of women as caretakers

  • In circumstances where men who don’t have an explicit or implicit bias against women (these men I call our allies!)


As you can see, backlash is NOT about women’s behavior, but rather situational.

When we (women) ask for a promotion, a raise, a new highly visible project to be given to us over others, those requests are normally rather assertive and made in self-interest, which is in complete conflict with women’s social stereotype. It’s only natural and logical to assume that in these situations there is a chance of a backlash. As a result of that fear, women quite often chose to accept less.

Don’t get discouraged quite yet though!!! I am here to tell you that there is a way to minimize the chance of backlash, and while I can’t guarantee its elimination, you shouldn’t let fear limit your potential and contribution. Stay with me!  

I will share with you how to understand your value, how to identify what you deserve, how to ask for it, when to ask, how to conquer the fear of backlash, and in the meantime I will also address issues such as: feedback, bias, gendered job descriptions, qualifiers women use and their effect, how to bring light to women’s contributions that’s congruent with gender stereotype. And so many more relevant topics!

I will talk through what women can do as well as how organizations can assist in making our workplaces more equitable for men and women alike!

Welcome to our community! Pass on the message, and let’s thrive together!


Sources: "Women Negotiators and Barriers to the Bargaining Table." 5 Nov. 2018; "Punishing female negotiators for asserting too much…or not enough ...."