Are women partly to blame for the gender wage gap?

28 September 2012 -


The gender gap and female disadvantage in the workplace will persist until women learn to fight harder, argues Agatha Sutcliffe

The gender pay gap has long been a topic of some contention - a complicated maze of prejudice, gender stereotyping, discrimination and societal expectation. But are women doing all they can to close the gap?

Research released earlier this year revealed that for every £100 men take home, women are earning around £85. The wage gap varies between regions and sectors but the average is 15%; in London the gap stands at 23%; the gulf in the financial sector is a veritable chasm – of up to 55%.

There are numerous reasons given for the continued existence of a gender wage gap: ongoing discrimination, recessionary pressure, actual or potential motherhood, lack of flexible working and the fact that women are more likely to be employed in low-paid, part-time work which, typically, has fewer prospects for promotion and training. These are very real issues that contribute to the persistence of the gap 40 years after the legislation implementing equal pay was brought in. But is there something else holding us women back – are we as a sex contributing to the shocking gender pay gap?

CMI research from last year showed that junior female managers – typically recent graduate positions managing projects rather than people – now earn £21,969 on average, £602 more than men at the same level. So what happens after managers’ first jobs that reverses the pay gap and results in women being severely under-represented in the boardroom and at the top of organisations? One stumbling block is negotiation. Research has repeatedly shown that women shy away from negotiating salaries in the workplace and are less tenacious in the pursuit of information on pay parity than their male counterparts. But why are we just sitting back and letting our boys negotiate their way to bigger pay packets and top positions? Why are we not fighting for greater transparency and equality?

According to Carol Frohlinger JD, managing partner of Negotiating Women, a firm specialising in training women to negotiate more effectively, women are reluctant self-advocates and feel uncomfortable negotiating because “we take the outcomes of salary negotiations personally. Women believe that poor outcomes are a reflection of their overall value to an organisation”. There is also evidence to suggest that the lack of female role models at the top leads to women being less likely to aim for the CEO seat or a position on the board – some 31% per cent of men say they would like to become a CEO, compared to 21% of women. Fewer female managers than male managers would like to become a board director – 30% compared to 20%. And so the wage gap further widens. Women are discouraged from aiming for the top of the ladder because there aren’t enough examples of success – too few women are smashing through the glass ceiling and encouraging others to join them.

So is it a crisis of confidence, a fear of putting ones head above the parapet? Either way, women are not helping themselves – or each other – as much as they could be.

Even your boss’s stay-at-home wife is affecting your chances of progression up the pay scale. According to recent academic paper Marriage Structure And The Gender Revolution In The Workplace, produced by researchers with links to four US universities, employed men with stay-at-home wives tend to “exhibit attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours that undermine the role of women in the workplace.” The research finds evidence for a clear corroboration between whether or not a man’s wife works and his views on female colleagues and the advancement of female subordinates. These men, who typically represent upper echelons of organisations, and subsequently occupy the top spots, are shown to have a “negative view of the very presence of women in the office, large percentages of female employees and female leaders.” Even more worryingly the findings show that businessmen whose wives don’t work “more frequently deny qualified female employees opportunities for promotions”. As Forbes journalist Meghan Casserly bluntly puts it: “By hanging laundry at midday is [the stay-at-home wife] hanging other women out to dry?”

I am not advocating an outbreak of hostility between working women and housewives. But I do think the findings are worth considering in a broader sense. As modern women we need to be more confident and proactive when pursuing higher salaries and negotiating promotions; we need to be united in our fight for pay parity and greater transparency, we need to know we are all on the same side, supporting each other and setting examples for our young girls with ambitions – those who represent the hope of a future with an equal playing field and the closing of the gender wage gap. It may not happen overnight but let’s make sure that we are doing all we can to remove unnecessary stumbling blocks. We need a clear message: “Move over boys, we’re heading to the top.”

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