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Nov 30 2011

Another Way to Blame Women for Getting Paid Less

This afternoon, Crommunist tweeted me a link to this post about a Reddit contributor begging women to negotiate salaries:

In general, the women I have negotiated with will say 45k is not enough and they need more, but not give a number. I will then usually give a nominal bump to 48k or 50k. Company policy wont let me bump more than 5k over the initial offer unless they specifically request more. On the other hand, men more frequently will come back with a number along the lines of 65k to 75k, and I will be forced to negotiate down from there. After this phase, almost all women will take the offer or move on to somewhere else, not knowing they could have gotten more if they asked.

At the end, most of the women I hire make between 45k and 50k, whereas the men make between 60k and 70k. Even more crazy, they ask for raises far less often, so the disparity only grows.

I don’t know if this is at all helpful, I feel most of it is common sense, but I see it all the time. How can I help?

What follows is a set of bullet points telling women what they “need” to do to get fair pay. The blogger who posted this also posted several comments agreeing and offering more advice. All lovely and useful and practical.

And bullshit.

Dear manager who is paying his or her female employees less than the males: You’re discriminating against women. Worse than that, you know you’re discriminating, and you’re blaming the people you’re discriminating against.

It doesn’t matter that this is policy. In fact, that makes it both worse and a point of legal weakness in the HR policy at your company. A policy that creates gender disparities in pay that isn’t based on job performance is a big flag that says, “Sue me, ladies!” And nothing about negotiating one’s pay is job-related. Nothing about needing to ask for a raise instead of receiving them as part of regularly conducted job reviews is job-related.

It doesn’t matter that everyone else is doing the same thing. There was a time when everyone fired women as soon as they confessed to being pregnant, too. That practice is now illegal, and some company had to be the first to get sued over it and make case law. The only way to make sure that first company isn’t yours on a practice like this is to knock it the fuck off.

There are a ton of “resources” available to tell women how to get along better in the workplace. However, as Pascale Lane pointed out just today, many of these pieces of direction consist of little more than labeling behavior that is stereotypically female as a problem to be fixed. The fact is, however, that working styles more generally related to women improve the workplace and work groups, rather than being a handicap.

You want engaged women in your workplace. You want your hires to stick around and not cost you one and a half to three times their salary to replace them (far more than that annual pay gap between genders). Making your female employees fight for anything approaching pay equity is not the way to make them happy or make them want to stay with you. On the other hand, judging by the example that Saturn set back in 2003, adopting a no-haggle policy can mark you as the place for smart women to be.

So, concerned hiring manager, if you really want to answer, “How can I help?” try fixing the problem instead of the people hurt by it.

25 comments

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  1. 1
    Crommunist

    Hahaha, you took this in a COMPLETELY different direction than I would have. I thought it was an interesting example of internalized sexism manifesting itself as entitlement depression. It’s really not a case where the hiring manager is deciding to pay people less, it’s where some are reaching higher because they feel they deserve it more.

    You are correct that the system has a sexist effect, and that it needs to be corrected, but it goes well beyond just hiring practices. Just like we encourage female skeptics to show up and speak out more (while at the same time telling male skeptics to listen and be more welcoming), this is an example of someone saying “this kind of behaviour might be screwing you over, and here’s a way to fix it.”

  2. 2
    Stephanie Zvan

    It is partly that, but it’s also the fact that there are a number of behaviors rewarded by HR and management that are only considered “good” because the guys do them. This is one of those. It isn’t bad advice, but it’s only advice about playing the game, not getting the job done or done right.

    But yeah, “How can I help?” followed by “Here, you fix it” struck a nerve.

  3. 3
    CyberLizard

    I’ve only once asked for more than I was offered and I’ve never asked for a raise (I’m male, ftr). The idea terrifies me.

    I understand that there is systemic sexism, but in this particular case I’m not sure what, if anything, the hiring manager can do. Is the act of negotiation in and of itself sexist? I’m struggling to understand. What Crommunist says makes a lot of sense to me but my awareness of my own white male privilege makes me doubt my own reactions in situations like this.

  4. 4
    Stephanie Zvan

    CyberLizard, why should you have to ask for more money when working with a manager who knows there are other people worth exactly the same as you are (or less) who are getting paid more?

    For the record, I don’t know that not seeing this is a matter of male privilege as much as it is assuming that this is just how business is done. Our culture works very hard to tell us that however business operates is how it should operate.

  5. 5
    plutosdad

    I have heard this exact thing before, in fact I wonder if this is just a copy of some earlier article. All the manager has to do is tell them this policy a month before reviews. Tell them it is in confidence and he’ll deny it if he wants, but at least tell them. There is no reason he should continue this.

    I’m sure the policy says to not tell employees, but then I’ve known managers who break policies in order to be ethical. There is no reason he can’t as well.

  6. 6
    plutosdad

    I realize I made it sound like he was right. Certainly since he knows the salaries, he can make sure it is more equitably distributed regardless of what people ask for, raise the issue to HR, and also encourage other managers to take the same steps.

  7. 7
    Liz from Aus

    Delurking to say that that reddit thread made me seriously angry. If all these people ‘want to help’ why don’t they lobby HR to just change the policies?

    I live in Australia, and every place I’ve worked has a specific payscale that is tied to duties. You get bumped up a step at set time periods (assuming satisfactory performance) and promoted to a new level and new duties only with a competitive interview. Equal pay for equal work – it’s not hard.

    There are probably lots of places that don’t do this, but the only jobs that spring to mind are CEOS/higher-ups in the private sector and those who are self-employed.

  8. 8
    julian

    A big part of this is just how much free reign we give employers. They get to decide how much your time and effort is worth and you have to convince them otherwise. It’s a stupid fucking way to do things that is bound to create the sort of inequality issues we’re seeing with pay.

    What’s wrong with having a set amount you pay everyone for a certain job? I’m not saying it has to be static but if they’re doing the same work, giving you the same level of productivity, where do you get off paying them 10k less than the opposite sex? It isn’t a good business decision (well, it is, in the same sense child labor is a good business decision), it’s exploitative.

  9. 9
    John-Henry Beck

    I’m not the type to be any good at trying to negotiate a price or wages. More specifically, to know when haggling is even appropriate much less where it’s reasonable to start from. I’m a fairly risk-averse type.
    For that matter, I have a pretty good relationship with my manager. The company has expense constraints what with losing money in the tight economy for 3 years now. How hard could I push without pissing her off, even if there is room for her to negotiate?

    I do know our (U.S.) society places a lot of value on businesses having the right to set wages, and to do quite a lot to try to lower costs, including labor costs. Manipulating people to accept lower wages, even if it happens to harm some demographics more than others (like women in this case, or just workers with less bargaining position), seems to be treated as fair game as far as methods to reduce costs and be more efficient. There’s plenty of business interests already fear-mongering about how we’re not competitive because of the high labor costs compared to China and India and such, which is why they’re ‘forced’ to outsource.

  10. 10
    John-Henry Beck

    Also an addendum, largely to julian’s response.

    I think part of it is this near worship of competition. Not just businesses competing to keep costs down, but the idea that workers should be competing with each other to be the best workers who are worth the most. Incentives and all that.

    The theory being that people need the incentive that if they work harder than their neighbor they’ll get paid more. If you’re willing to work for less because, for whatever reason, you don’t fight for all the wages you can eek out, then you don’t deserve it. The business is just doing its job trying to minimize its expenses. So you, the worker, shouldn’t expect the “handout” of getting extra pay you didn’t “earn” by going that extra mile.

    Basically, I’m not sure we expect much out of companies but that they ruthlessly make as much money they can by exploiting labor and customers both. Its your job as a consumer and employee to fight for what you can get.

    Changing that attitude would appear to me to take a major shift in the culture, to get to a method closer to ‘equal pay for equal work’.
    So I actually see this equal pay thing to be broader than a women’s issue. Seems more of a citizen/people versus corporation struggle.

  11. 11
    sunsangnim

    I’ve held quite a few different types of jobs and the idea of haggling over the salary during the interview is quite foreign to me. You mean there are jobs where you can get paid more if you just ask?

  12. 12
    julian

    So you, the worker, shouldn’t expect the “handout” of getting extra pay you didn’t “earn” by going that extra mile.

    And this is what strikes me as entirely ridiculous. Many of the jobs (for example, secretaries) that rely on this tactic to keep their employees underpaid are going the extra mile jobs. They give up holidays, sleep and family time to do their job. Often its their schedule that has to remain entirely flexible while their boss puts in, more or less, whatever they like.

    The rational doesn’t hold up at all. Bossman isn’t encouraging competition, he’s cheating you out of your time and money.

  13. 13
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    The thing is the ridicculous manager doesn’t realize is that they’re not paying those the best salary who work the best/hardest, but those who scream the loudest.
    Basic rule at every children’s birthday: Ignore the kid who’s jumping up and down yelling that they want 5 slices of cake because they’re starving. Serve them last.

    Have more or less fixed scales, have boni that are rewarded according to actual work, not because of pestering.

    And, of course, yes, such behaviour will be seen positive in men and negative in women.

    To quote the European politician Viviane Redding: If in politics a man takes a firm stand and slams his hand into the desk, he’s seen as strongwilled. If a woman does it she’s hysteric

  14. 14
    Dunc

    This is pretty much exactly the sort of system you’d design if you wanted to create a situation in which people prosper in direct proportion to how much of an entitled arsehole they are. No wonder the economy’s fucked.

  15. 15
    Ruth

    Also, I can’t remember where I read it, but wasn’t there a study a little while ago that showed that women who asked for more money were viewed as ‘selfish’ and unlikely to be good team-workers, whereas men who asked were viewed as confident and assertive.

    The trouble with all the studies blaming the gender pay-gap on women’s poor pay negotiation skills is that they assume a level playing field. They assume that the strategies that work well for men would also work well for women, if they would only have the sense to use them. However, it appears that the reason women don’t use those strategies is that they DON’T work for women, and can even backfire, so NOT using those strategies is actually the sensible approach.

  16. 16
    jolo5309

    Weird, I know that in my company that people that have the same job title as mine get paid about the same as me, be they male, female or other. We have about 300 people with similar job titles (junior, intermediate and senior) so April gets the same as me and more than Garth.

  17. 17
    jamessweet

    I’m not sure I completely agree with your take on this. Salary negotiation is, for better or worse, here to stay. Some are better at it than others. I’m not fond of this fact (I may be a man, but I suck at negotiating regarding money) but there it is. If there is a persistent trend of women being less aggressive at negotiating salaries, there may be some things an employer can do to affirmatively address this, but it can only go so far.

    By way of analogy… My employer hires far more men who work in my field than they do women. But, the gender imbalance is significantly less extreme than it was in my graduating college class for my major. This indicates to me that my employer is doing the “right” thing, even though the net effect is to hire more men for these sorts of (stereotypically male) positions than women. And indeed, the company is frequently recognized for its work towards diversity and has received numerous awards on that basis.

    My employer does have a policy that creates a gender imbalance in the workplace, but that policy happens to be hiring qualified applicants. There are things the company can (and does) do to mitigate that effect, but to truly fix it requires broader social changes, namely, more women choosing to enter this field, thus producing more qualified applicants.

    I sort of see this issue in that light. As Crommunist put it: “an interesting example of internalized sexism manifesting itself as entitlement depression.”

    Nonetheless I’m glad you make the point you do, because there’s certainly some truth in that interpretation as well. There probably are things the employer can do to help close this gap (one thing that comes to mind is that if their female applicants really are more likely not to ask for a specific number, the “no more than $5k” guideline could be stretched to say, $15k for women — a sort of salary negotiation affirmative action, if you will?) and I probably wouldn’t have thought of it in that perspective otherwise.

  18. 18
    One Brow

    Asking this to be fixed by HR, or at a higher level, is asking a company to institue of policy of deliberately paying people more than they are required to do so. It sounds great in theory, but companies are not going to do that in practice.

    By the way, count me among the men who haven’t tried to negotiate higher salaries.

    If women who ask for more money are viewed differently than men who ask for more money, that’s a problem. Probably part of the problem is also having widely disparate income wages for the same position. If someone is really worth 50% more salary, why don’t hey have a higher job title. If instead of having one job title that does from 45K-70K, you have three job titles that go 45-55, 50-60, and 55-70, the same women that don’t ask for more money will often seek the promotion (based on my personal experience, but then the original post is aqlso based on anecdotal evidence).

  19. 19
    jamessweet

    For the record, I don’t know that not seeing this is a matter of male privilege as much as it is assuming that this is just how business is done. Our culture works very hard to tell us that however business operates is how it should operate.

    I also very much appreciate this point.

    One thing that I favor is making salaries public. There is more and more of a move towards this approach, and I think it solves a whole lot of problems at once.

    In this example, if salaries are secret, then I don’t know how you can possibly get rid of the problem that people who negotiate more aggressively get paid more. I mean, that’s how negotiation works, whether it be salaries or the price of a used car or whatever.

    But if salaries are open, then you know you’re going to have to justify why two comparable employees get paid vastly different amounts, and you know that “Well, she asked for more than you did” is not going to be an acceptable answer.

  20. 20
    keithharwood

    I too live in Australia and when I was a permanent employee I never negotiated my pay. The salary for the job was the salary it was advertised at. The attitude here is that if you aren’t prepared to work for the advertised salary, don’t apply for the job.

    I wonder if this has anything to do with why the Australian economy is so much stronger than the US economy.

  21. 21
    Jessa

    Ruth:

    This might be the study you were thinking of:

    Social incentives for gender differences in the propensity to initiate negotiations: Sometimes it does hurt to ask

  22. 22
    Brendan

    Having worked in professional services for a long time, there is a reason for paying people as little as the business can get away with. “People” costs are the highest cost. If you can pay someone less for the same job, as management, you should do it to reduce costs. There is a book that everyone used to get when they made manager at a certain large, now closed, accounting/consulting firm called, “Managing a professional services business.”
    The main objective of remuneration and promotion structures is to minimise the amount paid to staff whilst keeping them happy…ish.
    Each partner is effectively their own small business under a large umbrella. They have their own targets and any money they pay to their team is money they dont get. The challenge is to maintain a high performing, happy team whilst making as much money as possible (and probably delivering something of quality to clients). It is a game, and some play it better than others. The rules are skewed in favour of men, but while the outcomes are sexist, the motivation is (as far as I have seen) purely commercial.

  23. 23
    julian

    It is a game, and some play it better than others.

    It’s exploitative bullshit and some get fucked worse than others.

    Funny how everything becomes ok when it’s about making money.

  24. 24
    Stephanie Zvan

    Brendan, if you’ve worked in this business, then you should know that there is significantly more to the story than simple wages. The trend in HR in effective companies, teams, etc. is toward pay for performance. Pay your high performers more. Give them more opportunities to build more skills and experience. Give them more opportunities to advance.

    This, as Giliell pointed out, is exactly the opposite of that.

  25. 25
    Staceyjw

    “CyberLizard, why should you have to ask for more money when working with a manager who knows there are other people worth exactly the same as you are (or less) who are getting paid more?”

    Because a business has motivation to pay as little as they can for the best talent. Not that complicated. if they have to pay one person 70k but another accepts 50k, why would they offer that person more?

    I don’t know how I feel about this topic over all. I don’t see it as a blame the women game, as much as something is person has noticed and brought up for discussion. Why is it poor negotiation among females so common? That’s the question!

    On one hand, I have seen how poor negotiation skills hurts workers- both men and women. I think women are hurt more because of cultural biases that prevent them from asking (aggressiveness isn’t “womanly” and all at garbage) and business profit motives that will take every advantage of the fact that women know they don’t have the leg up much of the time and won’t push for more. If all is equal, it wouldn’t be fair to pay one person more. However, no two employees are ever the same, and rarely do the same exact work. This varies a lot- a engineer may do the same work as a coworker regardless, but sales managers do not, even if the descriptions are the same. There is a lot in between.

    Good negotiators are not just pushy, rude or aggressive- and I find these characterizations a bit insulting. Those of us who excel at it often have a few things in common- we know what we are personally worth, we know what the job usually pays, we prepare and research every little detail, and know how to make ourselves look like we are worth more. And we may be worth more sometimes.

    One example is this: I (female) was moved across country, and negotiated 15k in moving costs, upfront in cash, plus a 30k raise and a huge bump in bonus pay if I did well, upping my pay by about double. My male counterpart also moved a similar distance, and he got 1500 in costs and no raise at all. When we discussed our moves, I didn’t have the heart to tell him what I got, but told him he hadn’t asked for enough.

    WHY the disparity? I went into this negotiation with spread sheets, and a presentation showing how I would earn them so much more that I was worth what I was demanding (and I was demanding). I had several meetings to get what I wanted! BUT, He went in with nothing….. No plan, no stats, nothing. And he was THRILLED he got $1500! This may be unique, as in Sales if you cannot negotiate well, you really ARE a worse employee, and this ability directly reflects on your sales. But I can see this playing out in other fields as well.

    If one person doesn’t ask, an employer won’t offer, gender unrelated. BUT gender becomes an issue in related ways- will a woman even apply, or is discrimination so brutal they stay away? Will she feel confident enough to command more if she’s the minority, or is she just thankful to get an opportunity? is she considered a bitch or shrew for asking for more and being demanding? ETC. This is how women get hurt- the underlying, ingrained discrimination and male privilege. Noticing we negotiate less is merely a symptom of these ills.

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