The much-believed notion that women could end the gender wage gap, simply by negotiating for better pay, has just been shattered by data. The good news is that we can still fix it.
Raise your hand if you’ve heard this before — men are better at negotiating for pay and that’s why they earn more. They go into job interviews with a script ready to ask for more money for their service, while women are hesitant to negotiate. Therefore, the starting salaries for the two genders differ, so the story goes, and that’s how the gender pay gap starts. The solution to this? Women just have to ask for raises as often as men.
How true is this?
The disappointing answer: In reality, women tend to ask for better pay just as often as men, we just get turned down more.
A recent research study looked at employer-employee data of corporate workers all around the world. The researcher hypothesised that they would find evidence supporting the typical belief that women are more reluctant to negotiate.
However, to their surprise, they discovered that women and men were almost equally likely to enter wage negotiations.
This throws a wrench into the workings of the commonly expressed idea that women are less likely to negotiate. The stereotype was popularised by Linda Babcock in her book, Women Don’t Ask. She didn’t state any innate reasons for this, but rather, suggested that this reluctance to ask for higher salaries was a trait acquired through social conditioning. Several studies since then confirmed the idea.
What has changed since the previous study?
The reasonable answer: To start with, there is much more data available now than before. The key point revealed is that women find themselves (more often than men) in jobs where you can’t negotiate your salary to begin with, like low-skill hourly wage jobs or part-time positions. Especially in India, where 95% of working women are engaged in the unorganised sector, there is no opportunity to negotiate or to ask for a raise.
Although when we zoom in on the industries where salaries are negotiable, men and women are found to ask for raises at the same rate.
Another survey conducted on working women has confirmed the pattern. Outrageously, it has revealed that women actually have asked more often than men. But when they did, they were more likely to be refused. In some cases, they have even suffered negative consequences for asking.
How can we fix this?
The hopeful answer: According to the survey, only 38% of the companies set targets for gender representation. Out of those, only one-tenth of the companies share the gender diversity statistics with their employees.
An organisations’ decision to be transparent with its employees is the key sign of commitment towards change. Women feel more confident and comfortable approaching these topics if they have numbers to back them up. Fixing this will get the ball rolling.
Furthermore, only 42% of senior management take responsibility for their actions relating to gender parity. We’ll have a much broader drive towards change upon addressing these concerns.
The ‘women don’t ask’ narrative has outstayed its validity. It’s the employers who need to step up to beat the wage gap and provide equal pay for equal work.