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Why Women Have to Ask for a Promotion and Men Don't

Women should let go of the myth that hard work alone will get them that raise.

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A long-held theory that attempts to explain wage disparities between men and women is that women don't know how to ask for promotions and salary increases. So all women have to do is ask? It's complicated.

A recent survey conducted in the Australian finance industry and compiled by lead researchers Ardea Investment Management and Australian National University in conjunction with industry experts sheds some light on the dynamics of gender bias in promotions. The survey of 2,000 finance industry professionals revealed that 76% of men were offered promotions without requesting one, compared to 57% of women. One cannot help if that same old unconscious disparity that men are the breadwinners and need and deserve a raise more than women is at work. Does the burden fall solely on women to change their behavior, or is this systemic gender bias?

Australia trumps other industrialized nations like the U.S., U.K., and India in tackling gender inequality. A Kearney report reveals a proportion of female parliamentarians and women board members in its top 100 firms. However, persistent gaps, including the fact that male fund managers, on average, earn more than twice as much as their female counterparts. For example, male quantitative research analysts are paid 46% more than their female counterparts.

In her book That's What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together, Joanne Lipman recalled her new role as an editor, and while she was still unpacking her new office, a male colleague stopped by. Without a word, he began pacing out the perimeter. "What are you doing?" she asked. "Your office is two feet smaller than the other people in your position. You should complain." She did not realize that her male colleague was conscious of status markers, like the size of an office, which paralleled other meaningful rewards like salary. Lipman later discovered that men in her position, those with larger offices, earned more than she did.

Unfortunately, Lipman puts the burden on women by suggesting that we undervalue ourselves. She claims, "We don't know what we are worth. Through a quirk of biology and culture, we undervalue ourselves." And, because women have a higher need to be liked and approved of, there are consequences for standing up for ourselves, and the price may be too high: "What's more, even if we realize our value and then ask for it, we often suffer consequences of another sort. People find us bossy, or uncompromising, or difficult. They don't want to work with us." Lipman hints that biology is destiny and "to eliminate the gender gap, we need to recognize the fact, as uncomfortable as it may be, that men and women are wired differently. And in some ways, women are programmed from birth to value their personal contributions less."

Women can learn to advocate for themselves and let go of the myth that working hard will get them that raise. Organizations can implement mentoring and sponsoring programs to overcome embedded good ole boys networks that promote their own. A mentor can coach her on "selling" herself, and a sponsor can open doors to the C-suite. Women in leadership positions need to bring other women with them on their way up the corporate ladder.

Another approach is to suggest unconscious bias training for your organization. Suppose your company doesn't spring for formal training. In that case, you can do it ad-hoc by just elevating women whenever you can by calling attention to women's ideas or suggesting them for special assignments that will translate to getting a foot in the door to a promotion.


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