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Are Women Now Responsible for the Pay Gap?

At current rates, we won’t achieve equal pay until 2067

 

Last I checked it’s 2013, so why's there still a pay gap between men and women? According to monster.co.uk, a jobsearch website, the average UK salary for men is £30,980 and £24,356 for women. Research by the Chartered Management Institute in 2010 suggested that, at current rates, we won’t achieve parity until 2067, which might be funny if it wasn’t so sad. Maybe it’s time for women to start asking ourselves how big a part we’re playing in this unjust situation.

 

It’s sometimes argued that the gap is down to men being more likely to work in higher-paying fields such as engineering, computer science and finance while women tend to work in education, social care and social sciences. Men also don’t go on maternity leave and stay at home to raise the kids less often. But women who work in male-dominated fields, such as engineering, are still paid less than their male co-workers, even with the same qualifications, education and work experience.

 

The Higher Education Careers Services Unit reports that this pay gap is present even among young graduates with no work experience. Long before they enter a corporate environment or have to take maternity leave, women are earning thousands of pounds less than men. According to the statistics, female graduates earned between £21,000 and £23,999. Men started on £24,000 or more.

 

When an organization expects new employees to negotiate their starting salaries, men propose a higher salary without fear of estranging co-workers and employers. For women, it’s a different story.

 

Heather Jackson, chief executive of The Women’s Business Forum told The Daily Telegraph: “This is not about women lacking confidence. This is about them valuing themselves less than men. They are willing to accept less pay for the same work than men; who will negotiate upwards as they believe they are worth more,” she said.

 

Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook and best-selling author of 'Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead' said: “Plenty of women in their 20s are acquiescent about what they’re paid, grateful for a job and reluctant to negotiate raises or ask their male colleagues what they’re paid. “Many of the women in their 50s and 60s I work alongside should have more chutzpah by now but they, too, don’t have the courage to negotiate for pay. Women of all ages, I believe, fear being seen as too demanding or difficult.”

 

But is she correct in holding women responsible for this fear?

 

Joan Williams, law professor and founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law, cites the 2006 Bowles Study in which it was found that a woman negotiating a higher salary lowers the chances of men and women wanting to work with, or hire, her by a factor of 5.5. You know, because in these circumstances women are seen as ball busting whereas men are just considered assertive. Regardless of whether or not a woman is actually assertive in negotiation, she still faces a greater social cost than men. Williams thinks the problem lies with “business processes that artificially advantage men.”

 

Some employers are taking steps to reduce or eliminate the pay gap. For example, some universities have their department chair negotiate start-up packages for all incoming professors ensuring fairer pay between the genders. Other companies tell incoming candidates and recruiters that salaries are supposed to be negotiated, and give information about salary ranges and the research on biases around when women do negotiate.

 

But why should women wait for the system to change? Isn’t it time we stop blaming men for the pay gap and take matters into our own hands? According to Payscale.com, a salary comparison website, men are more likely to ask for a rise and a promotion at the beginning of their careers and after, meaning over the years, women will get lower rises and benefits. And it only gets worse. According to the Trade Unions Congress: “Women in their 50s earn nearly a fifth less than men of the same age - the widest gender pay gap of any age group.”

 

How about we take a cue from Katie Couric? She refused to be the ‘girly sidekick’ when she was offered a position as full-time co-anchor on the US Today show in 1991. “I told the then president of NBC News, Michael Gartner, that I really didn't want the job if it wasn't going to be a 50/50 division of labor between Bryant Gumbel, the show's anchor at the time, and me.” Citing her credibility as a journalist who’d covered the Pentagon and local news for years, she negotiated her salary to 52/48, which she calls a “small but important victory.” She continued: “I was new and largely unproven. Rather than expect parity immediately, I thought, ‘Let's see how it goes.’ As I became more successful, salary increases followed.”

 

Hear that ladies? Taking action works. But how?

 

Forbes contributor Kerry Hannon urges women to do their research before interviewing at a company. Use websites such as Payscale.com and Salary.com to find how much your position normally pays in your area. If you’re applying for a job at a non-profit organisation, look up its latest online tax filing. Hannon wrote: “Women must do a better job of preparing for a job interview question about salary or for a salary negotiation and do the necessary research to determine how much money they want to earn and why.” Ask friends working in similar positions to those you’re applying for; use your connections online for information.

 

Men, you can do your bit too!  How about more open conversations between men and women about their salaries? No-one should be afraid to discuss how much you and your peers are earning.

 

And women, don’t shy away from taking on the tougher tasks at work. Hannon thinks this could be especially advantageous “when you’re over 50 and your employer may be harboring doubts about your energy and enthusiasm.” Because the better your performance, the more you’re likely to earn.

 

Most importantly, don’t be scared to ask for a rise! This is partially what is holding most women back. Men don’t have this fear, which is why they are generally getting paid more.

 

Where there’s room for negotiation, see it as an opportunity to leverage more fairness into the workplace – don’t wait to be told it’s an option. Sure, you may alienate some employers or co-workers, potential and current, but others will respect your assertiveness and confidence. Know your value, and demand fairer pay. The key to being respected is to respect yourself first.

 

Alexondra Assemi

 

Alexondra is a 21 year-old Californian studying in the UK. She blogs about film on doubleyourdosage.com and culture on alexondraassemi.blogspot.co.uk. Feel free to get in touch on her Facebook page or on Twitter.
 

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