By Anne Fisher, contributor
FORTUNE -- Dear Annie: I've been following the recent debate about whether women need to improve their negotiating skills and, if so, how. This interests me because I suspect that, if I want to take my career to the next level, I'm going to have to start asking for more of what I believe I've earned, rather than just accepting whatever comes along. Can you recommend any resources for learning to be a better negotiator? — Alison in Atlanta
Dear Alison: This is indeed a hot topic lately, and for good reason. Lee Miller, co-author (with his daughter, real estate executive Jessica Miller) of a new book called A Woman's Guide to Successful Negotiating, believes that a reluctance to haggle is holding many women back.
"It doesn't have to be that way," says Miller, who teaches courses on negotiation at Columbia Business School. His firm, NegotiationPlus, counts among its coaching clients American Express (AXP), Bank of America (BAC), Dell (DELL) and the National Football League.
Although women now earn, on average, 20% less than men in the same jobs, Miller says, "for some women who have learned to negotiate, that statistic has been completely reversed." He points to recent U.S. Census data showing that single women aged 22 to 30 in major metropolitan areas now earn 8% more than their male peers.
"The irony is that women have been socialized in certain ways that make them quite good negotiators, if you can get them to do it," observes Jennifer Allyn, a managing director at PriceWaterhouse Coopers. "The biggest hurdle is usually persuading them to try."
Copious academic research bears that out. Consider: When Carnegie-Mellon professor Linda Babcock asked men and women to choose from a list of metaphors to describe how they feel about the prospect of negotiating, the men's top pick was "winning a ball game." The women's: "Going to the dentist."
Those vastly different perceptions help explain why, Babcock's research found, men negotiate four times more often than women do. "Men tend to see more situations as negotiable. They look for opportunities to negotiate," says Allyn. "Women, by contrast, often don't see opportunities that are right in front of them." More
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