Negotiating Gender Equality
Closing the gender wage gap: make it a New Year’s Resolution.
Posted Dec 31, 2018
As the clock winds down on another year, many are undoubtedly contemplating paths to self-improvement for 2019. If you’re like many North Americans, maybe you’ll resolve to exercise more, to cut back on sugar, to quit smoking, or to save money. Perhaps you’ll strive to spend more time with family and friends, or land that job that you’ve always dreamed of.
Yes, the New Year inevitably brings with it the promise of better things to come.
It is in this spirit that I raise the following:
By every measure, American and Canadian women face a gender wage gap. Women continue to earn anywhere from 54 to 86 percent of what men do, for doing the exact same job. This gap is felt the strongest by older and visible minority women, and research suggests that this disparity is slow to change. Over the last 20 years, the gender wage gap has closed by less than six percentage points.
2018 has certainly been a year of consciousness raising around issues of gender (in)equality. It is now time to translate awareness into action. Might not a concerted effort to do away with the gender wage gap once and for all, be a valiant New Year’s resolution for us each to pursue?
While the reasons for the disparity in pay between men and women are certainly plentiful and nuanced (e.g., gender differences in occupations and industries, gender roles and the gendered division of labour, discrimination and bias), and many such causes are rooted in deeply entrenched patriarchal ideologies that must be combatted at all levels of society, research points to a tangible arena wherein we may all individually begin to enact beneficial change – namely negotiations.
One of the most consistent findings in the negotiation literature is that women tend to underperform relative to men. Not only do women typically set lower negotiation goals for themselves – and as a result ask for (and eventually achieve) less from their negotiation counterparts – but more often than not, women choose not to negotiate at all. Women routinely accept the first offer they are presented with in a negotiation, ultimately walking away from such exchanges with far less than they could. These behaviours can, of course, be catastrophic, particularly when it comes to salary and job negotiations. Indeed, women are more restrained and reluctant than men to negotiate for higher compensation, with some research suggesting that only 7 percent of women compared to 57 percent of men, attempt to negotiate their salaries.
To illustrate the significance of this disparate behaviour, in one study it was found that female university graduates earn about 90 cents for every dollar earned by their male classmates. While a 10-cent difference may sound like a pittance, suppose a 25-year old man and woman are both offered a $50,000 salary at the outset of their careers. If the man negotiates a 10 percent increase, but the woman does not, assuming they both receive a 5 percent annual raise, the man will earn over $600,000 more over a 40-year career. Salary negotiations matter.
Thus, to my sisters – in the name of combatting the gender wage gap, let’s resolve to aim and ask for more. Let’s resolve to not simply accept what has been laid out in front of us, but to assertively push for what we truly deserve.
With that said, there will certainly be more to it than this.
When it comes to negotiations, research offers even deeper insight into how gender – and in particular gender stereotypes – can shape the salary negotiation achievements of women. Research shows that women are routinely typecast in negotiations (and of course more widely as well) as being submissive, other-centered, weak, and cooperative – stereotypes which powerfully influence how their counterparts behave towards them.
For one thing, studies have found that such gender stereotypes shape the offers made to women at the bargaining table; negotiators routinely offer more money to men than to women. As women are seen as passive, weak, and more concerned about relationships than their own welfare, people assume that they can get away with offering women less, and that females will be satisfied with a smaller share. Moreover, studies show that female negotiators are significantly more likely to be lied to during negotiations. The stereotypes that women are less competent (and are thus more easily misled) and more forgiving (thus reducing the potential costs of lying to women) in turn, put females at risk for opportunistic deception, ultimately misleading them into sub-optimal deals.
Thus, to my brothers – in the name of combatting the gender wage gap I urge you to resist damaging gender stereotypes at the bargaining table. Resolve to reject the notion that women are passive, weak, and incompetent negotiators, and instead afford your female counterparts the same respect that you would show if they were men.
Importantly, studies also show that gender stereotypes lead to the punishment of women who pursue their own ambitions and promote their own interests in job and salary negotiations. As many of the behaviours characteristic of the competitive negotiation process are stereotypically masculine in nature (e.g., dominance, assertiveness), females who embody these "manly" traits through the pursuit of self-interest, routinely experience backlash for failing to behave as females “should”. Research shows that women who negotiate for higher compensation are rated as less likable, more demanding, and more selfish, compared to those who don’t. Moreover, counterparts are less inclined to want to work with women who negotiate for a higher salary. The same negative consequences are not felt by dominant and assertive male negotiators. What's more, this backlash is projected by both males and females. In other words, women are just as guilty of penalizing their female peers for violating gender stereotypes, as are men. Thus, fearing the ramifications of behaving against type, many women opt not to advocate for themselves while negotiating, often to the detriment of their economic interests.
Thus, to all of those involved in the salary negotiation process – in the name of combatting the gender wage gap, let’s collectively resolve to afford women the same freedoms as men in pursuing self-interested ends. Let’s resolve to withhold our gender-specific judgments and female-targeted punishments when strength and agency are displayed by women at the bargaining table.
As we usher in the New Year, let it also be the dawn of a new age. An era when the playing field is leveled for women and men. A time when females and males are able to enjoy equal prosperity – when the dismantling of the gender wage gap is non-negotiable.
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