Angela Dionisi, Ph.D.

(Un)Well at Work

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:

Source: Tookapic/Pexels

By every measure, American and Canadian women face a gender wage gap.[1] Women continue to earn anywhere from 54 to 86 percent of what men do, for doing the exact same job.[2] This gap is felt the strongest by older[3] and visible minority[4] 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.[5]

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?

But how?

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),[6] 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.[7] 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.[8] 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,[9] with some research suggesting that only 7 percent of women compared to 57 percent of men, attempt to negotiate their salaries.[10]

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.

 Moose Photos/Pexels
Source: Moose Photos/Pexels

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[11] – 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.[12] 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.[13]

Source: Rawpixel/Pexels

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”.[14] 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.[15] The same negative consequences are not felt by dominant and assertive male negotiators.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18]

 Magda Ehlers/Pexels
Source: Magda Ehlers/Pexels

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.


[1] Gavin Jackson, "What is the Best Way of Measuring the Gender Pay Gap?," Financial Times, January 31, 2018.

Tavia Grant, "Who is Minding the Gap?," The Globe and Mail, November 12, 2017.

[2] Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Table 37: Median Weekly Earnings of Full-Time Wage and Salary Workers by Selected Characteristics, 2017,” Current Population Survey(2018).

Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Table 39: Median Weekly Earnings of Full-Time Wage and Salary Workers by Detailed Occupation and Sex," Current Population Survey (2018).

Statistics Canada, "Table: 14-10-0064-01 (formerly CANSIM 282-0072): Employee Wages by Industry, Annual," CANSIM (2017).

[3] The American Association of University Women, The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap: Spring 2018 Edition (2018): p. 11.

OECD, The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle (October 4, 2017): p. 159.

[4] Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Table 37: Median Weekly Earnings of Full-Time Wage and Salary Workers by Selected Characteristics, 2017,” Current Population Survey (2018).

Statistics Canada, “ Visible Minority (15), Income Statistics (17), Generation Status (4), Age (10) and Sex (3) for the Population Aged 15 Years and Over in Private Households of Canada, Provinces and Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomerations, 2016 Census - 25% Sample Data,” 2016 Census (2017).

[5] Statistics Canada, "Table: 14-10-0064-01 (formerly CANSIM 282-0072): Employee Wages by Industry, Annual," CANSIM (2017).

[6] OECD, The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle (October 4, 2017): p. 4.

Blau, F. D., & Kahn, L. M. (2017). The gender wage gap: Extent, trends, and explanations. Journal of Economic Literature, 55(3), 789-865.

[7] Mazei, J., Hüffmeier, J., Freund, P. A., Stuhlmacher, A. F., Bilke, L., & Hertel, G. (2015). A meta-analysis on gender differences in negotiation outcomes and their moderators. Psychological bulletin, 141, 85-104.

[8] Babcock, L., & Laschever, S. (2007). Women don’t ask. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

[9] Small, D. A., Gelfand, M., Babcock, L., & Gettman, H. (2007). Who goes to the bargaining table? The influence of gender and framing on the initiation of negotiation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 600-613.

[10] Babcock, L., & Laschever, S. (2007). Women don’t ask. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

[11] Kray, L. J., & Thompson, L. (2004). Gender stereotypes and negotiation performance: An examination of theory and research. Research in organizational behavior, 26, 103-182.

[12] Solnick, S. J. (2001). Gender differences in the ultimatum game. Economic Inquiry, 39, 189-200.

[13]  Kray, L. J., Kennedy, J. A., & Van Zant, A. B. (2014). Not competent enough to know the difference? Gender stereotypes about women’s ease of being misled predict negotiator deception. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 125, 61-72.

[14] Amanatullah, E. T., & Tinsley, C. H. (2013). Punishing female negotiators for asserting too much… or not enough: Exploring why advocacy moderates backlash against assertive female negotiators. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 120, 110-122.

[15] Bowles, H. R., Babcock, L., & Lai, L. (2007). Social incentives for gender differences in the propensity to initiate negotiations: Sometimes it does hurt to ask. Organizational Behavior and human decision Processes, 103, 84-103.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Heilman, M. E. (2001). Description and prescription: How gender stereotypes prevent women's ascent up the organizational ladder. Journal of Social Issues, 57, 657-674.

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