The Shocking Truth About the Gender Pay Gap

Over the past few months I’ve been writing about gender diversity, addressing issues such as unconscious bias, the differences in male and female brain biology, socialisation differences between men and women, how all these things interplay and impact on our working lives and career and keep us playing small.


In recent weeks a range of articles or sources of information have come my way that are painting a rather disappointing picture around the gender pay gap – and for many women who read this, the following information may make your eyes go wide. 



But if we go right back to when men and women first enter the workforce as graduates we begin to see a very interesting picture. Professor Linda Babcock, Carnegie Mellon University and the author of Women Don’t Ask has found that;

"men initiate salary negotiations four times as often as women do, and that when women do negotiate, they ask for 30 percent less money than men do."

Marilyn Davidson from the Manchester Business School in the UK asks her students each year what they expect to earn, and what they deserve to earn, five years after graduation. 

"On average the men think they deserve $80,000 a year and the women $64,000—or 20 percent less."

And most recently in the news here in Australia headlines have been reminding us that women need to work extra 15 years to retire with same money as male colleagues. What with women starting on a lower salary, then not asking for increases, taking career breaks for family or study, not negotiating as hard when they have the opportunity, not being offered or considered for the same higher salaried opportunities, combined with biases both conscious and unconscious – women will need to stay in the workforce for far longer before they can retire.

So what are some of the contributing actors behind these discrepancies?

  • Unconscious bias- where men and women judge a woman negatively if she negotiates too hard, or if she says she sings her own praises amongst other things,
  • Lack of confidence when it comes to asking for a raise – there are multiple studies now proving that when it comes to negotiation in general women are less confident than men
  • Socialisation – young girls socialised to not rock the boat, with the concept of the ideal woman being diminutive, likeable and unassuming runs through all of this and is a too large a topic for this post but in all likelihood has considerable impact
  • Lack of societal expectation for women to be the breadwinner or take the lead with salary (although we are seeing more and more role reversal in recent years)
  • Roles that are deemed to be “women’s work” and are paid less well i.e. secretarial, admin support and child care
  • Career breaks and flexible arrangements to raise children or undertake further study
  • Stereotype threat – which deserves a whole article of its own.

Then if we move into accepting some responsibility for the part that we as women play in perpetuating this cycle:

So what can we do about it?

1. If you are a women wanting to advance your career and earning potential then you need to accept some responsibility for your part in the equation – and by examining how the way you were brought up, the cultural and societal expectations that underpin some of your belief systems is a great way to start.

2. The next step is to start playing the right game. Get really clear about what it is you want and need in your career, when you expect to retire, how much you’d like (and need) to earn, and what possible steps you could put in place right now to get the ball rolling. Put a plan in place. You probably work with a strategy in your role. Do the same for your career.

3. Do you research. In recent weeks some really big name organisations such as Salesforce have come out publicly to talk about how they are going to address this gender salary gap issue. What can you learn from their approach? 

4. Start asking for more and a great starting place would be learning more about negotiation tactics that work for women. Linda Babcock & Sara Laschever’s book Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide is an excellent resource.

5. Start practising. If this skill doesn’t come easy to you (and it probably won't) rehearse it with a trusted friend, colleague, coach or mentor. 

6. And finally understand that it will never feel like a good time. It will always be busy, you will frequently feel underprepared, ill equipped or like a fraud. You simply need to initiate discussions anyway.

This is an important issue and its not going away any time soon. The WGEA report highlights that the gender pay gap has not shifted much in 20 years. Now is the time to do something about it. Start with you.

Vive la révolution! Ambition Revolution! 

  • I am the creator of The Ambition Revolution – the science and art of amping smart and savvy.
  • I mentor ambitious professionals to ensure they remain strategic, agile and focused on the bigger game.
  • I also work with organisations who are trying to increase the profile of women in leadership, but struggling to do so.
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