Didn't we identify at least a partial fix for the gender gap in pay? For years now, the popular wisdom has been that women must be more assertive about pressing for more money. They have to learn to negotiate for what they want.
Well, ladies, you can negotiate until you're blue in the face—and you'll still make less. In fact, negotiating might make you worse off. That's essentially the finding of a study of 184 managers (male and female).
Maura Belliveau, a professor of management at Long Island University in New York, found that managers were likely to give men substantially higher raises than their female employees—if they had the opportunity to explain the reason for the shortfall to the women. (Participants in the study were randomly assigned to a male or female employee with similar job profiles; some managers were told they could explain their decisions to the employee, while others were told they could not.)
Here's are some of the study's key findings:
- Managers gave male employees 71 percent of available funds but only 29 percent to female employees, "when managers knew that they could explain their pay decisions, citing limited resources."
- But if managers didn't have the opportunity to explain their decision, both sexes got equal raises.
- Managers gave men the same raises, regardless of whether the explanation opportunity exists.
"The difference [in men and women's pay] shows up more if it's a high-paying profession like law," Belliveau told me over the phone. "It's not hostile gender bias, but more of a benevolent belief that a woman will value the explanation as to why she's getting paid less. They could be thinking that the explanation is a substitute for pay."
Personally, I 'd rather see corporate love manifested in the form of cold, hard cash rather than some drawn-out excuse about why the raise is so pathetic. It's like listening to a lousy boyfriend explain why he's not ready to make a commitment after years of togetherness. You just know that the reasons are going to sound lame.
But maybe women are suckers for these explanations, though Belliveau said her research refutes this theory. Certainly, management seems to think so. "Managers don’t think they’re treating woman unfairly," said Belliveau. "With men, [managers] don’t think they’ll care about the explanation as much. It’s a stereotype that women will appreciate an explanation."
So I'm not sure where this study leaves us if managers are self-deluding. Belliveau agrees that women are at a distinct disadvantage from the get-go. Giving the lion's share of allocated funds to men means men don't need to negotiate to get a good raise.
Belliveau, however, is not discouraged. Making people aware of the biases in their decision making process is half the battle, she said: "The way I see managers taking gender research seriously is heartening to me. It was a much harder sell 10 to 15 years ago. "
In the meantime, though, should women voice their desire for better pay? Yes, said Belliveau: "Women should make it explicit that salary is a way they measure how the company values them."
Not that it would make a difference.
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