Ask and You Shall Receive? Maybe Not.

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

Every year in April, we commemorate Equal Pay Day. It’s a day to raise awareness about the persistent wage gap between men and women. Study after study has shown that women earn less than their male counterparts for the same work, even when controlling for factors such as education, experience, and skill set. Some estimates show that women earn up to 20% less than men. That is a significant number, especially when you consider how that adds up over time.

One prominent theory as to why women earn less than men has been that women simply don’t ask for more. They don’t negotiate their starting salaries and they don’t ask for raises. Much time and effort has been devoted to telling women to speak up and ask for what they deserve. I am one of those people because I do think it’s important to be your own advocate. But, it turns out that asking doesn’t necessarily mean getting. And that even when women ask at the same rate as men, they don’t receive at the same rate. That’s what a new Australian study recently found, the results of which were published in Harvard Business Review, Research: Women Ask for Raises as Often as Men, but Are Less Likely to Get Them. 

This result doesn’t surprise me. When McKinsey & Co and Lean In released their Women in the Workplace study in 2016, one of their findings was that women were more likely than men to receive push back for negotiating. It’s unclear as to why this is this case, but I can’t help but suspect that implicit bias plays a role in many of these instances. When women behave in ways that are contrary to our expectations (i.e., when they are assertive, direct, and ambitious – qualities often used in successful negotiations), we tend to view them more negatively.  Another reason might be that women are less likely to get credit for their work, making it more difficult for them to build their case for why they deserve higher pay. Yet another reason may be that women are less likely to receive critical feedback and less likely to have access to senior leaders, and as a result, are not able to best position themselves for raises and promotions.

There are any number of reasons why women are less likely to receive raises, but one encouraging finding was that younger women were not only asking for raises as much as men, they were also receiving raises on par with their male colleagues. We must continue working to ensure that we don’t lose momentum. Training decision makers on the effects of implicit bias, creating more transparency around pay, passing paid leave legislation, and keeping this conversation going are all vital to closing the pay gap once and for all.

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