Women – would you like to earn as much money as your male colleagues?

I was at #altukgc13 yesterday on the 5th floor of the Royal Festival Hall.  It came about thanks to Lloyd Davis & James Cattell who jumped into action following cancellation of UK Govcamp because of a bit of snow & the chaos that wreaks on the British public transport network (I note that even Buzz Aldrin had to take the train from London to Edinburgh on Friday and sit in standard class, although from the photos online he appeared to be having a great time).

One of the groups I joined discussed why it is that conference speaking platform slots are overwhelmingly dominated by white, middle aged males.  We had a lively discussion & generated some ideas.  One of the women in the group, the very fabulous & sadly ex-public sector Sharon O’Dea, has successfully managed to break onto the speaking circuit herself where she talks about technology.  Rare indeed.  Sharon agreed that she will write a blog with some tips for interested people on how they may do the same.  You can find Sharon’s blog at http://sharonodea.co.uk/

The discussion got me thinking that many of the reasons that women in particular don’t put themselves forward for speaking slots are similar to the reasons why women are so rubbish at either negotiating or improving their salary packages.  That was my driver for writing this blog.  When I was a younger person in a junior job it didn’t occur to me that there was a difference in outcomes of salary negotiations between men & women.  I naively assumed that everyone did as well as each other.  I knew I felt a bit uncomfortable having to wrangle with my MD in this way once a year.  Then one day in a team meeting a wonderful woman that I used to work with, Kirsten Gillingham (now Bursar at St Antony’s College, Oxford) challenged our MD about this inequality & made reference to the many studies that have been done showing that women are extremely unwilling to negotiate their salary and are financially disadvantaged as a result.  For me, merely becoming aware of this fact was enough to bring about a change in my own behaviour from that moment on – another reason for writing the blog as hopefully the same thing will happen for at least one person that reads it.

When you get to the stats they’re a bit alarming.  For new graduates, 57% of men negotiate a higher starting salary than the sum they are first offered but only 7% of women do.  In recruitment exercises, 90% of men immediately ask for more money when their offer comes through but over 50% of women accept the first offer.  Women earn about 75% of what men do in the same role.  I’m not talking about the public sector here or organisations where there is a transparent pay scale – although I will say that even then, you do still have a chance of negotiating a better deal when you’re joining the organisation.

So why is this?  What are the contributing factors?  I think there are probably a lot including:

  • women systematically underestimate their own abilities and performance
  • women underestimate their own value and the contribution they make to an organisation
  • women often aren’t used to negotiation because of the types of jobs they do
  • women probably care more about fairness
  • women are nervous & less confident of their position if they don’t have complete information – in this context specific salary information on other people is unlikely to be available
  • women don’t usually like conflict & will be extremely reluctant to threaten to walk if they don’t get what they want
  • at recruitment time, women may believe they’ll be able to improve their lot once they’ve started working & demonstrated their value to the organisation
  • perhaps women are more scared of losing the job offer than men are
  • maybe bosses treat this as a bit of a game and women don’t readily understand the rules
  • perhaps worst of all, success & likeability are positively correlated for men & negatively correlated for women – I can think of many occasions where I’ve underplayed my own achievements in order to be better liked or more easily accepted (we publicly put our success down to luck or help from other people).  So the male that negotiates a great package for himself is seen as an all-round great guy whereas the woman who does the same thing is seen as a hardnosed ballbreaker.

No doubt there are many more.

So how can you improve your salary negotiation outcome?

  1. By being aware that this is just how things are done.  It isn’t personal and you may not like it.  During the hiring process most company’s recruiters will start by offering you less than they are authorised to spend on the post.  It is perfectly acceptable for you to refuse that sum & state what your expectation is via a counter offer.  The negotiator will then often lowball you with another offer that is less than they can pay you.  Again – just stick to your guns & continue to counter offer.  Stay calm & polite at all times.  Don’t give any reasons why you want more money unless they really press you to.  Often they won’t.
  2. Be familiar with your industry metrics so that you know what’s realistic – it probably isn’t realistic to ask for £50k when you’ve been offered £25k – but who knows – dependent on your sector & skills maybe it is.
  3. Practice your negotiations with a friend or mentor & reassure yourself that your demands are reasonable.
  4. Remember that negotiation at its core is culturally masculine.
  5. Don’t be afraid to initiate a conversation with your manager about a salary increase – my own team is made up of males & females but inevitably it’s the men who will chance their arm and pitch to me the reasons why they deserve a pay rise, even when they aren’t due for one.

Ideally the process should be changed as there’s also a commercial downside & cost to behaving in this way.  No enlightened company will consciously operate like this as they will appreciate that in order to succeed commercially; they need a gender balanced and happy workforce who are treated fairly.  At Learning Pool we want our people to have the same opportunities and to be treated equitably.  We recognise the very large sums of money we spend recruiting and training our team members so it’s in our interests that they are content & stay with us for the long term.  There’s probably a special place in hell for managers who offer pay rises only at the point where their people threaten to leave.

When I was researching this topic last night I watched again Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg’s famous TED talk entitled “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders” – it’s just shy of 15 minutes long & well worth a viewing or another viewing.  I won’t repeat what she says but she makes some great points that really made me think.  The link is here http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders.html

I sincerely hope no-one is offended by this blog post.  That isn’t my intention & those of you who know me will know that I thrive in a male dominated sector and industry.  There’s lots more that can be said on this topic and I hope many of you will start a conversation using the comment section below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 comments

  1. Thanks Mary – a very interesting Blog. I agree in the main with your comments. I think though we need more than individuals taking a stand. We need young women to be encouraged from an early age and we need to address male dominated management hierarchies that exist in many companies. I was well into my 20s until I realised that my male counterparts, some with considerably less ability, were routinely getting paid more. In fact one such situation led me to lose a lot of faith in the particular employer I was with and eventually led to me moving on. Yes of course, I should be sticking up for myself and taking responsibility for my own career, but employers have a responsibility too.

    It makes sound business sense to be to encourage the brightest and the best in any business and not just those who shout loudest. I feel strongly that some employers are exploiting this situation of gender bias in career negotiations for short-term gain. Unfortunately this type of attitude and reaction only serves to perpetuate the belief that many women have – that they are not quite as good as their male colleague counterparts.

    I believe there is a little bit of a shift needed at all levels of society – how girls are taught, how we are encouraged in the home and work and the realisation that both male and female skills are essential to the running of every business. Just like you Mary, I have seen women down-play their skills to fit in and not seem overly “male”. Somehow we need to find the confidence to be ourselves without trying to be something we are not.

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  2. Really liked this and very helpful at the moment. Having beein told members of staff are earning more than me (purely historical) I feel motivated to open up the negotiations, rather than just accept it and be left feeling unmotivated. Thank you for a great post.

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  3. Thank you very much for writing this post, Mary! This is a really useful post. I wished I could have listened online to that session of #altukgc13 – and I think it would be great if you and Sharon run a workshop at UK GovCamp proper (I would attend it if I were able to be there).

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    1. Pleasure Janet – I hope I see you again sometime soon & I really hope you find some paid work – it’s very hard out there right now.

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  4. I agree with you Fiona but at the end of the day we are all individual people. I do as much as I can to try & influence all the things you mention in your last paragraph & plenty of other women do as well. Like you I didn’t realise when I was younger that there was any difference in earnings but once I did I was no longer willing to just accept it. I suppose in my own small way I’ve made a change by making sure that sort of practice doesn’t occur in the company that I co-own. Tiny steps & all of that!

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