May 17, 2011

Women, Work, and Wage Gaps

Gender differences definitely exist in the workplace, but when it comes to expectations about salary and promotion, who’s more realistic: men or women?

Linda Schweitzer is an assistant professor in the Sprott School of Business. Her research looks at how gender shapes professional behaviours, attitudes and opportunities. Currently, she’s analyzing responses from thousands of millennial generation students who were surveyed on their opinions and expectations about the world of work. She uncovered significant gender differences, particularly when it came to issues of remuneration and advancement.

Women respondents in Schweitzer’s study quoted starting salary figures that were, on average, 14 per cent less than their male counterparts. For salary potential five years into a job, that gap rose to about 18 per cent. The numbers are important because salary expectation is a starting point for negotiation, explains Schweitzer.

“As long as women continue to expect less, things aren’t going to improve, and the workplace wage gap will continue to exist,” she says.

As long as women continue to expect less, things aren’t going to improve

Schweitzer is now trying to learn why these gender disparities exist in the first place. She has already discovered that some traditional explanations for the differences don’t appear to be valid.

“There’s an assumption that women expect less because they have lower self esteem,” says Schweitzer, “but our findings indicated no gender difference in that regard. Nor did we find that women seek advice mostly from other women, which is another myth that attempts to explain the divide.”

What Schweitzer did find is that women’s starting salary expectations were more realistic than men’s, meaning women may be more pragmatic when it comes to actual earning worth. The research highlights a compound societal problem with a potentially straight-forward solution.

“We really can fix these expectations with information and education,” Schweitzer says. “If women know that men simply anticipate more, then they’ll raise their expectations and go in negotiating at a higher level.”

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