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Women Do Their Part to Reduce the Wage Gap

December 7, 2011

Meg and FB both wrote posts last month about inequality in pay between men and women doing similar jobs.  The both recommended that women need to step up and ask for equal pay in order to get it.

I want to start by saying that I ask for what I want, and I think all women (all people!) should do this.  I ask for promotions, I actively try to grab new responsibilities, and I ask to be included in things that seem like good opportunities.  I’m proactive about career growth and I’m absolutely unafraid of asking for things.  Well, sometimes I’m a little afraid, but I push through that fear.

But I don’t think it is true that women don’t ask, especially in fields that are male-dominated.  Women KNOW they have to ask, so we do it.  Yet somehow, applying the same techniques, we don’t get the same results as our male counterparts.   It is important to note this is still true when you take out potentially skewing factors like kids.  Single women still don’t make the same as men for equivalent work.

Is it outright discrimination?  Absolutely not.  Almost no one intentionally is paying women less or intentionally favoring men.  Everyone tries to be fair.  But the gap is real, and I think we do a disservice to ourselves to say that the reason it exists is just because it is our own fault for not asking.  (Or rather, it is “their fault”, them being those other women who don’t know any better.)

It feels nice and smart to say we can avoid this problem by negotiating “like a man” to get what we deserve.   This feels good, for ourselves at least – never mind those weaker women who simply won’t ask!   But it isn’t the whole truth.  We still are coming up against cultural biases.    Women are treated and perceived differently at work.  That is a fact.

So then, what CAN we do about it? It is sad, but there isn’t much that can be done quickly.  As women rise through the ranks and become more represented in high level roles, the stereotypes and biases will diminish (somewhat).  But this will take a long time.  Everyone already works hard to be fair, yet we can’t seem to actually achieve fairness.  What is the solution?  It beats me, but here are my recommendations, which is basically the same as Meg and FB.

  • By all means, ask!  Use all the techniques men use!
  • When appropriate, talk about this issue in non-personal ways.  This is what I’m doing now.  Share the facts with others, let people know it is real, and encourage people to think about how it affects them.
  • Never play the gender card at work.  Do not tell people you feel you are treated differently because you are a woman.  Even if it is true, nothing good will come of it.  Unless perhaps you can prove it (unlikely) and you are up for a lawsuit (no thanks!)
  • If you are in a leadership role (man or woman) be aware of the social biases and actively think about how it affects your perceptions of your people.
  • Let your accomplishments be known.  This is career advice 101, but really, you have to do this.  It is your only chance.  Plus, if you tell your boss what you did, it really makes her job easier.  She probably has to just ify your promotion to someone else, and reminding her specifically why you deserve it will help with that.

The point isn’t that we shouldn’t do these things, but that we should remember that just because we do these things that doesn’t mean the problem is solved.  It isn’t solved for us individually, and it is not solved in general.

Do you ask for what you want at work?  Do you think most women do? 

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. December 7, 2011 6:12 pm

    I think women ask, and I think they’re perceived differently from men who ask. This happened with my mother just last year. She’s been with this company the same length of time as the VP of Operations. She was promoted to Executive VP of Finance but received no raise. She had to basically stalk her boss and fight tooth and nail to get a raise, and she’s still making $20,000 less than the other VP. Her boss says they’re “on the same level,” that one is like his right hand and the other his left hand. If that’s true, he must like one of his hands a whole lot more than the other.

    Unlike you, I’m not too optimistic about WHY the gap exists. I don’t believe that everyone tries to be fair and that it’s just not happened yet. There are real biases going on in this country. Two out of five men polled in the U.S. believe that a woman’s place is in the home. That’s astronomical! This is 2011, not 1951!

    I think the problem is that current legislation is not enforced. We already have legislation on the books that says paying people different amounts based on their gender is illegal. But there’s no enforcement mechanism. I believe requiring businesses to report wage information to the EEOC would be a start. At the rate we’re currently going, I will be retired before the wage gap closes. I don’t think the solution is putting all of the blame on women at all. It’s nice to think that it’s all our fault. That would mean sexism isn’t pervasive. But that’s simply not the case. (Great post!)

  2. December 7, 2011 6:18 pm

    THIS 100%. I am so happy to see this post. Yes, probably fewer percentage of women ask or negotiate their salary, but the EFFECT of women asking is also different from men’s. Instead of “just ask” we need to learn how to ask effectively and how to mitigate possible negative consequences, and many times those tactics need to be different from men’s. Not many people talk about this – I actually went to a women’s recruiting event at a business school, and the professor raised this issue. And several women in the room turned to each other and said, “wow, someone had the guts to talk about this in public.”

  3. Emily permalink
    December 7, 2011 11:58 pm

    YES. I have experienced exactly this!! Thank you so much for writing about it. During my most recent salary negotiation, I was ready to ask for a raise, as well as to spell out the reasons that I believed I deserved a raise. I approached the situation in a professional manner. The manager that I was negotiating with barely let me get two words out before he asked me when I was finally going to get around to marrying my boyfriend and popping out a baby or two. Inappropriate much? This is not a manager with whom I have a personal relationship. He basically tried to shut down the salary discussion by shifting the conversation to when I was going to have a marriage and family. And, as you describe in your post, I likely would have faced negative consequences if I’d called him out on his inappropriate question.

    I am still mad about this and still wondering how I could have handled it better. At the end, he ended up making it seem like he was doing me a favour by giving me any raise at all. As youngish women, how can one approach this kind of situation and demand to be taken more seriously? When negotiating with a man who tries to act like your grandpa, how can one stay professional without alienating him by asking him to refrain from inappropriate questions?

    Loving your recent posts, by the way.

  4. December 8, 2011 9:08 am

    Great post! I agree, and since my post on the issue I’ve thought about this a lot more. One factor that plays a part which I didn’t discuss before is the kid factor. I read a WSJ article last year which stated that women under 30 or 35 today (I can’t remember which) are actually now earning MORE than their male counterparts at every level (even starting salaries on average are higher for women college grads!). However that slight advantage disappears and even reverses if and when the women have children- even after adjusting for hours worked, etc.

    I think this may not be as much because women aren’t asking for what they want or that employers are penalizing them for having kids but rather because women ARE taking what they want – more time at home and more focus on the family. Once a couple has children, the woman’s priority and focus is forever changed: motherhood comes first and foremost. But a dad’s focus generally remains on his career and income – because that is how he sees his primary role as father, by providing for the family. Obviously these are generalizations, but I do think that men ramp it up at work once they have families to support, whereas women turn their focus elsewhere. Even if this results in subtle shifts at work – taking on a few less projects, leaving a bit earlier, not going for that extra networking event or happy hour in favor of catching the kids’ soccer game – it can make an earnings difference over time.

  5. December 9, 2011 9:53 am

    I’ve noticed that assertive women in high level positions are often perceived as “difficult” in my workplace. This perception probably also extends to women who “dare” to ask for a raise or negotiate. Even though looking back at certain situations, I can see how biases have affected my career and salary, I usually approach negotiations as an inpersonal fact-based “game” and I’m armed with salary research and list of my recent accomplishments and contributions (saving company money, more efficiency etc..). I usually get something, not always what I want, but something. It doesn’t work of course if your boss is a chauvinist!

    However, I think married men with kids often have an advantage at raise/promotions because bosses assume that the men have to support their families and that women are going to scale back, whether it’s true or not.

    Finally, I was at another blog (Well-Heeled?) where most women seem to want their spouse to make more money than they do. I wonder how this plays into the wage gap situation?? For my part, I don’t mind making more and I don’t think most people know who makes more unless the gap is really apparent (i.e. wife is a Director level position and husband is a teacher, but if both are just white collar professionals, who knows or cares??)

  6. December 10, 2011 4:14 pm

    I think some women ARE discriminated against. This is without a doubt. I really believe that some employers are biased against women.

    That said.. you know this, and you leave because you know your job better than the guy they keep promoting. 🙂

    Thanks for the links back. BE STRONG! 🙂

  7. December 19, 2011 11:15 am

    Funny thing (depends on your humor) – as someone who rarely ever talks about her now-spouse at work, one of questions I was asked in an evaluation of my future prospects was whether or not I intended to follow my spouse’s career.

    I thought it was a patently ridiculous question given how much I have invested into my job but what they were really asking was: are you going to become a stay at home mom now or anytime soon? Also ridiculous given how little interest I have in going off and getting pregnant on my honeymoon or anytime in the near future. Or maybe ever. But they don’t know that. All they know is that’s basically what happened with one of the senior veteran females on the team. She got married, then pregnant within months post-wedding, and her job will be protected for a year (int’l office) so now they’re wondering if they’ll be up a creek with both of their most senior leads at literally the same time next year.

    My answer, since I have a very solid relationship with the person asking the question, was flippant and emphatic: I’m a career woman who always wants to win. I follow no one’s career but my own.

    I had no intention of answering the underlying unasked question about kids/pregnancy because that’s not legal nor any of their business and I don’t intend to give any ground where I don’t have to, but I also don’t have any intention of allowing myself to be pigeonholed as a person in her prime childbearing years and therefore a hiring risk. We’ll see what happens 🙂

    • December 20, 2011 7:42 am

      Wow, I can’t believe they would be stupid enough to ask that! How frustrating that it is a real concern of theirs (and a lot of employers, I’m sure).

      Yeah, not so funny to me 🙂

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