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Gender Pay Disparity: Women Don't Negotiate!

by Harwant Khush, Ph.D., Research Consultant, Tero International

"In business as in life you don't get what you deserve; you get what you negotiate."
Chester L. Karass (Author of Give and Take)

Gender pay disparity is still a deeply ingrained and tenacious reality for the professional women of the 21st century. Pay disparity implies that women receive less pay as compared to men for doing the same job. In November 2015, The Economic Policy Institute of the USA verified this fact and stated, "The gender wage gap is a persistent economic problem; women still make 82.9% of men's wages."

The World Economic Forum ranked 142 countries on the Global Gender Pay Index in 2015. The United States, the most economically developed and advanced country in the world, was ranked at the 28th position. It trailed far behind developing countries such as Rwanda ranked sixth, Philippines ranked seventh, and Slovenia ranked 10th. Nevertheless, these rankings verified the fact that gender pay disparity is a global phenomenon. This report also concluded that with the present policies, "it would take 118 years---or until 2133--- to close the pay gap completely."

The National Center for Education Statistics (2015) states that, "Females are expected to account for the majority of college students: about 11.5 million females will attend in fall 2015, compared with 8.7 million males." When women excel in education and skills, then why it is so difficult for them to close this pay disparity?

Part of the answer lies in multiple articles and books that have been published to analyze the factors affecting the pay disparity, including women's lack of negotiating skills. A comprehensive and thoroughly researched book was published in 2003 under the title: Negotiations and Gender Divide: Women Don't Ask by Babcock and Leschever. The authors concluded that women do not negotiate and do not ask for higher salary. According to the authors, "By neglecting to negotiate her starting salary for her first job, a woman may sacrifice over half a million dollars in lost earnings by the end of her career."

Multitudes of articles followed publication of this book and stated the high cost of avoiding negotiations. One such article, Nice Girls Don't Ask (Harvard Business Review) stated, "Women continue to earn less, on average, for the same performance... Women often don't get what they want and deserve because they don't ask for it."

This premise was put to test at the Carnegie Mellon University. Researchers informed the MBA graduating students about their approximate starting salary. Students were also encouraged to negotiate for higher pay. Researchers followed this cohort and were amazed to find out the results. Fifty-seven percent of the male graduates and while only seven percent of the female graduates negotiated for higher salaries.

Why do Women not Negotiate?

Multiple issues such as social, economic, political, educational and cultural affect women's reluctance to negotiate. These include:

Lack of Self-Confidence

Women's lack of self-confidence in the contemporary corporate environment that is dominated by men makes them underestimate their potential. "There's just a natural sort of feeling among the women that they will not get a prestigious job, so why bother trying..." (The Atlantic)

Researchers Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever (Women Don't Ask) asked men and women to pick up metaphors that best depict their views about negotiations. Majority of the men picked, "it was going to a wrestling match or going to a ballgame". However, for the women, "it is like going to a dentist." These views imply while men thought it was fun and challenging; women thought it was so painful.

Social and Cultural Stereotypes

Some of the deeply entrenched societal and cultural stereotypes that define men as the "bread-winners" and women as "care-givers" have provided primary and secondary gender defined roles. Old stereotypes die hard, "In this day and age, women are still told they don't make as much as the men because the men have families to support. Women are not working for pin money. They are supporting America's families. As one plaintiff recounted, a manager told her, "You don't need pay equity, you're married." (Pay-equity.org)

These stereotypes dictating the appropriate for women definitely puts them in subservient positions. They become submissive, lack decision-making powers and are satisfied to take whatever comes their way.

Social Cost

Women believe that they would be perceived as pushy, greedy or even bitchy if they assert their rights and demand what they really deserve. Women are afraid that coworkers may not pick them as team members or invite them to be members of certain committees if they are assertive.

Research has confirmed that female candidates experienced extensive backlash from male as well as from female evaluators in salary negotiations. Researchers stated, "...men were always less willing to work with a woman who had attempted to negotiate than with a woman who did not. They always preferred to work with a woman who stayed mum." (NACEW)

Economic Recession

Economic recessions and poor job market makes women docile and compliant. They are made to realize that they are lucky to have a job and should not think about benefits and other long-term prerequisites. "There's nothing like a recession to keep people from thinking they have to take what they can get," according to Selena Rezvani. (Forbes.com)

Inadequate Negotiation Skills

Inadequate negotiation skills and of its process definitely puts women at a disadvantage. According to Joann Lublin, "Women fall behind when they don't hone their negotiation skills" (NCPA).

How to Negotiate for Pay Disparity

The process of negotiating pay disparity can be facilitated by improving these basic skills:

In her book Lean in, Sheryl Sandberg covers some vital points for successful negotiations: According to Sandberg, women should;

Initiate Negotiations by Expressing Awareness of Pay Disparity

To negotiate, one must have adequate preparation in terms of facts, figures and other relevant information to show pay disparity from male employees. Sheryl Sandberg says,

"I have advised many women to preface negotiations by explaining that they know that women often get paid less than men so they are going to negotiate rather than accept the original offer."(page 47)

Justify Your Negotiations

Justify the position by pointing out that senior and team members or colleagues have specified that you deserve a higher salary. For example, Sandberg quotes Professor Hannah Bowles from the Kennedy School of Government as suggesting, "My manager suggested I talk with you about my compensation... my understanding is that jobs that involve this level of responsibility are compensated at this level of range." (page 47)

Be Nice and Act like a Woman

To achieve their chances of successful negotiations, Professor Bowles is quoted as suggesting that women do not need to imitate the confrontational approach of men. "First, women must come across as being nice, concerned about others, and "appropriately female". When women take a more instrumental approach ("This is what I want and deserve"), people react far more negatively." (page 47)

Sandberg also cites Mary Sue Coleman's (President--University of Michigan) advice, "smile frequently, express appreciation, express concern, invoke common interest, emphasize larger goals, and approach negotiation as problem-solving rather than a critical stand." (page 48)

Think Personally, Act Communally

According to Sandberg, pronouns do matter. Use "We instead of I" to emphasize the points. Connect yourself with your team members, colleagues and your organization. This approach would show that everyone would benefit from equal pay rather than to say, "it is good for me."

In addition to learning negotiation skills women need to demand laws for equal pay from their legislatures and other government officials. Some of the States are already taking the matters in their hands. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the California Fair Pay Act into law in October 2015. According to the Governor, "Sixty-six years after passage of the California Equal Pay Act, many women still earn less money than men doing the same or similar work. This bill is another step toward closing the persistent wage gap between men and women."

Equal pay has become a vital part of legislation and part of the legacy of President Obama. It was in 2002; President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. All women should get inspiration from Lilly Ledbetter, whose employer was paying her less than men doing the same job. Ledbetter took her pay discrimination complaint all the way to the Supreme Court. She had initial setbacks, but President Obama amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that helped women to pursue discriminatory pay practices. (The White House-Press Release)

The White House Office of the President released a statement on January 29, 2016 that, "while the gap has narrowed slightly over the past two years, there is much more work to be done to ensure fair pay for all." (Briefing Room) Considering these facts, the President has formulated new steps to Advance Equal pay on the seventh anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

For women, it is imperative that these laws be implemented to provide equal pay. By the 21st century, women have come a long way for their rights but they still have a long way to go to be on equal footing as men. In the meantime, they can take Chester L. Karass's words to heart that "you get what you negotiate." It is time to take the lead and negotiate to eradicate pay disparity.

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