Time to Stop Blaming Women for the Gender Pay Gap?
They negotiate effectively with women bosses; male bosses are another story
There’s a long history of studies showing women are less likely to negotiate their starting salaries, or seek raises in existing jobs. The implication — at least the one male bosses have often chosen — is that the gender pay gap would close if only women would speak up for themselves.
The “Lean In” movement seems to adopt that view; it’s all on you, women.
But new research shows women are in fact equal to men in negotiating on pay – when the boss is a woman. The problem comes with a male boss. Could the problem be men’s inclination to view negotiations as something to win, combined with implicit and explicit bias?
The study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, uses data growing out of a 2011 Wisconsin law making it possible for school districts to choose to negotiate pay directly with individual teachers, rather than rely on a standard gender-neutral pay formula agreed to through collective bargaining. (Yes, it was part of an anti-union movement in Wisconsin at the time, but the switch yielded valuable data on negotiating behavior and outcomes.)
Researchers found a gender pay gap equivalent to a year’s lost wages for women relative to men. Women in the study were 31% more likely than men to admit they didn’t feel comfortable negotiating pay.
Who’s across the table matters
Those were the overall numbers. Now let’s talk about the gender of the boss. In schools where the principal or superintendent was female, there was no gender pay gap. Moreover, in districts where the superintendent was a female, both male and female teachers were equally likely to want to negotiate.
That hints at an important nuance missing from the “women don’t like to negotiate” chatter among career experts. What they don’t like is negotiating with men.
Negotiating without ruffling feathers
An added headache for women is that they can be penalized for having the temerity to advocate on their behalf. A depressing stream of research has found that women who negotiate are often penalized, being branded as difficult or pushy. That, of course, has nothing to do with women, but everything to do with the workplace they find themselves in.
Yet another problem: Recent research found that the male bonding dynamic at work causes men to have the promotion advantage, and that in turn might explain nearly 40% of the gender pay gap.
While we wait for more of the male-dominated businesses to rectify their explicit and implicit gender pay bias, women have the tricky job of threading the needle to get what they deserve without the blowback they don’t.
How to negotiate for the salary you deserve
Make your fact-based case. Negotiating a raise at a current job, lay out your accomplishments. Negotiating for a new job, lay out your accomplishments. The more you can arm your hiring manager with facts, the more confidence you are giving them.
Ask for what you’re worth. This is especially key for younger women. Fight any voice in your head telling you that it’s great just to get your foot in the door, and that you should just be grateful for the opportunity. The researchers who studied Wisconsin teachers found that the biggest pay gap was among the youngest female teachers.
And if you’re looking for a raise, the same applies. Research shows women are more likely to wait for a raise, rather than make the case for themselves.
Set the anchor. A known behavioral tic — known as anchoring — is that we tend to make decisions based on an initial piece of information. So, marketers advertise a product with an initial price of say $50 (the anchor) and then mark it down to $40. You’re anchored to $50, and thus will likely feel good about paying “only $40.”
You want to set the anchor in salary negotiations. State that you expect a salary/raise “of at least $X.” You’ve just set the anchor. What you ask for should be based on knowing both the pay dynamics in that workplace, and the pay norms in your industry geographic region. (Websites such as Glassdoor and PayScale are a good resource.)
Your anchor should be higher than what you want to land at. That gives everyone room to actually negotiate.
Carefully weigh benefits for new jobs. Be prepared for “We can’t offer you the salary you want, but the value of your benefits is tremendous . . .” That may be true. But recognize it is a negotiating tactic. Benefits don’t pay the rent. Or the student loan payment. Make sure the salary meets your needs.
Practice your presentation. Don’t settle for the mirror exercise. Recruit someone to role-play the hiring agent. A workplace bestie who knows the office dynamics and the personality of your manager can be a great practice buddy. But anyone who will be constructively critical is a valuable resource. If you use Zoom, consider recording your practice runs; being able to review what you say and how you say it (body language) is an opportunity to learn. The goal is to bring an assured professional confidence to the conversation.