There’s no denying it: women are being paid less than men for the exact same work. For societal, evolutionary, and traditional reasons, women have historically been more valued in the home and less valued in the corporate workplace – the prior realm of only men with the exception of secretarial positions. Millennials may have a hard time imagining this type of work environment, having grown up in a relatively more progressive culture. By watching TV shows like Mad Men or even imagining a more extreme version of the discrimination that goes on today, they may form a concept of how things were in the 60’s and earlier.
Although Western culture has made some progress, there are still significant obstacles. If you’re a professional woman, you may want to believe that merit alone can get you to your leadership position of choice, but that’s unfortunately not the case. Women are scrutinized and judged more intensely than men and can get away with having far fewer human flaws and characteristics in the workplace. Racial minorities no doubt experience similar struggles or worse.
Women are now more likely to be college-educated than men in the United States. And yet, as of 2013, they’re making 82 cents on every dollar made by white men. This is merely an average, as mothers, older women, and women of color make even less (except for Asian women, who make 90 cents per white man-earned dollar). Another fact to consider is that 40% of families in the United States are primarily financially supported by the mother (two-thirds of whom are single mothers). These women should be able to support their families to the fullest extent possible for their given position, but they are unable under current (double) standards and practices.
Along with this being a cultural problem in a society that proclaims itself to be inclusive, women hold themselves back by refraining from negotiating their pay. Because of social training, their very nature, or both, many shy away from that flavor of interaction. Men are four times more likely to negotiate their pay than women; according to negotiation researcher Linda Babcock, the discrepancy is even greater between MBA-educated men and women (57% versus 7%, respectively. And Men with MBAs make 7.6% more than women with MBAs). Negotiating your pay can get you 7% plus additional pay, says Babcock – not bad for the effort of a single conversation. Clearly, women can benefit from learning how to negotiate their pay, let alone getting up the guts to actually do it.
What about when already having worked in a position for a while? Don’t raises help? Yes, they do, but people in general don’t ask for a raise nearly as often as bosses expect to be asked, as they sit on top of unused budgeted funds. (Salary.com reports that 41% of employees ask, while 84% of bosses expect requests.) Considering women’s reluctance to negotiate, they likely form a large proportion of non-askers. A typical annual raise is 5-10%, according to career expert Nicole Williams.
So let’s look at an example. Say you’re a woman being offered a $60k salary. You accept this figure without any further discussion, so $60k is what you’re making. Assuming you never receive a raise, you’ll still be earning that same amount 10 years later.
Now, imagine that you instead negotiated your pay and are receiving 7% extra as a result: you’re now starting at a salary of $64,200 the first year. If you asked for and received a 5% raise every year, in 10 years you’d be earning $99,595. If you were receiving a 10% raise every year, you’d be making $151, 380. These are obviously extreme scenarios, since you may not receive a raise every single year, nor does every organization increase pay by that much. But the example is meant to demonstrate how the combination of starting off strong with an effective negotiation and continuing to stand up for the value of your contribution each year can pay off over the long run.
Some women have a hard time negotiating and asking because they fear social judgment for appearing too aggressive. There’s some truth to this concern, and there are right and wrong ways for women to go about these activities. The challenge is for women to be assertive and credible without rubbing hiring managers or employers the wrong way, based on typical expectations for female behavior. As frustrating as having to contend with those expectations and biases is, this is the world we live in. We all have to play to our strengths and be shrewd about the social environments in which we function.
To learn more, please contact Dr. Laura McMillian for private coaching or stay tuned for her upcoming courses.