For a long time I was convinced the only real difference between men and women was anatomy and up-bringing. That we were conditionally brought up to expect and act within certain norms according to gender. For me, that idea fell away once I had sons. They act like boys. They act nothing like their little girl peers. Nature is, it seems, stronger than nurture. I got to wondering how those innate differences play in the way women and men value themselves. And how that impacts inequality between the sexes.
We know that there is an unfair pay gap between the genders. We know that there are complexities underpinning that gap. The over-representation of women in lower paid jobs. The difficulties in returning to work after having children. But I think it’s telling that women start off earning less their male counterparts from the get go. I think that comes down to women feeling uncomfortable negotiating and promoting themselves and their talents. Valuing themselves. Self-belief. Men start out earning more because they ask for it, not because the people who employ them are inherently sexist. As an aside, I do not think a collective lack of female confidence is the primary reason for the pay gap, but it is a part of it. This article takes the counter-point: Female Confidence Gap is a Sham.
So, why don’t women feel comfortable negotiating for more money and promoting themselves? I think there are a number of reasons.
Women aren’t taught to talk about money. I can’t remember my parents ever discussing money in day-to-day conversation. They talked passionately about politics, religion and art but never money. I talk about everything with my girlfriends, but we don’t talk about money. Whilst I can’t imagine my husband sits at the bar comparing pay cheques with his mates, he does seem more comfortable talking about money in day-to-day conversation. If we, as women, never talk about money, is it any wonder that we find it difficult to do so in pay review conversations?
Apparently, it’s not lady-like to promote yourself. How are you at taking compliments? I am learning to be better. But my first reaction is to down play anything nice said to me. I notice women doing this all the time. It’s like some ingrained behaviour we learned as little girls. I think it’s time we learnt to not only accept the praises of others, but to sing our own. We have been taught that it isn’t cultural acceptable for women to promote themselves, but I think it’s something we need break free from.
Generally, women prefer to share the credit and build the team. I saw this all the time when I worked in an office. The women leaders would be at pains to ensure that every individual received their due credit. Male leaders didn’t necessarily steal the credit, but they were more concerned with reporting on the whole outcome as the representative of the team. I actually prefer the former approach. I think it builds better rapport with team members and leads to better outcomes. However, the latter approach is what wins accolades and pay rises.
Women expect others to notice. Have you ever had this argument with your partner “you should know why I am upset!” Just because you might be exceptionally attune to what is going on around you, doesn’t mean everyone else is. This goes for the workplace as well. Hoping someone will notice your good work and reward you for it is never going to pay the same dividends as telling someone about it.
A man talking about his achievements is perceived differently from a woman doing so. Sometimes what is seen a strength in one gender, is seen as weakness in the other. Unfortunately, this seems to be the case with talking ourselves up. Whilst men do it three times more often than women, when women talk about their achievements, it’s perceived as bragging and the reaction is negative.
Women are happy to “help out” (for free). How often do you help someone out? Expecting nothing in return but that the recipient of your good will pass the kindness on? I know I do it frequently. In fact, if someone asks me for help, I am likely to stop whatever it is I am doing (even I am working on my own business) and turn my attention to their problem. And if someone asks me to do something I love doing, then I am more than happy to help out. But in reality, no matter how much I might enjoy it, each of these things takes time. Bluntly, it is time that I am stealing from my family and my own business. But for some reason, seeing the person that asked for my help succeed, is more important to me than my own success. Now, this may be an entirely person issue, but I don’t think so. I think women are much more likely to give of their time and talents, without recompense, than men are. Again, I don’t think this is a bad thing. Wonderful things have been achieved thorough collaboration and shared passion, rather than wanting to make a buck. But if this is our norm, if this is what we always do, then it’s difficult to attach monetary value to something that you have gotten used to giving away for free.
So, given that cultural norms and even our own attitudes appear to be stacked against women promoting themselves in the workplace, what can we do?
Teach our girls to talk about money and to value themselves. I think we need to teach young women that it’s okay to talk about money, within context. I think it would help if negotiation was taught in high school. I think we need to change the cultural norms around self-promotion being seen as aggressive and un-ladylike.
Push for transparency in the workplace. Some workplaces, dedicated to bridging the pay gap in their own teams, are completely transparent about what everyone earns. Whilst women may not push as hard for a pay raise, they certainly feel the same level of injustice as a man would when they learn they are being paid less for doing the same job as their colleague.
Give employees the opportunity to talk about their achievements in a comfortable way. Yearly performance reviews and salary meetings don’t exactly fill a person with good vibes. Regular, more casual meetings, where employees can talk to their employer about their achievements and aspirations might be a better way to go. Or it may make more sense for certain employees to write a letter about what they would like, rather than conversing about it.
Start valuing ourselves. It starts with me. With you. Do you value yourself? Your time? Your talents? If not, perhaps it’s time we did.
Do you think men and women value themselves differently?
Do you think it’s contributed to the pay gap?
Excellent post! I agree with most of your observations here, and though it is hard to make generalisations about gender, the statistics speak for themselves. I believe in demonstrating my work performance by doing, but need to remember to TALK about it as well as expecting managers to notice it!
I don’t like making generalisations either, but there are trends that aren’t doing women any favours, unfortunately! Definitely think you should tell people about the strides you are making – and I think there is a nice way to do that.
Your suggestions are a good start in the right direction! But I think that as well as being a gender issue – it is also a class issue. The model is you describe is pretty much the “privileged white male” stereotype and many men do not fit this type and are also disadvantaged. We need a cultural shift where women can be more assertive about their value but I would not like to see women mimic the behaviour of men who tell everyone how important they are – I’d like to see some accolades for the quiet achievers!
It’s so true. We pretend that there is equality in the workplace, but what there really is, is this: we will treat you as an equal as long as you act like a middle class white male. It will be interesting to see if there is a shift as more diversity moves into the upper echelons. Or whether to get there, those people had to adopt a stereotype which means that the status quo will remain.
Great post, Robyna! I recently had two experiences involving getting paid more at work. In the first instance, I was explicitly asking whether I should get paid more for taking on this extra role (of COURSE I should get paid more, but no way did I feel comfortable in saying that outright) and I spent maybe half an hour drafting the email and going over and over it to make sure I wasn’t coming across as rude or presumptuous. Crazy. The second instance involved the biggest boss offering me back pay for me having to take on more work than I should have had to. I immediately felt SO awkward and uncomfortable and I didn’t know what to say. Both of these instances made me reflect on how women are raised and how different some things are for men. A very timely post, Robyna! I definitely need to practice valuing myself more and not feeling so guilty about self-promotion.
I think what you have written reflects something we do a lot as women: over-think it! I am sure that I would get much further in life if I stopped over-thinking everything. Good on you for asking to be paid for your work.