Women graduate from college at higher percentages than men do today, yet women still earn less money and hold fewer executive positions. How can this be? According to a Pew Research Center analysis, “the gender gap in pay has narrowed since 1980, but it has remained relatively stable over the past 15 years or so. In 2017, women earned 82% of what men earned.”
When considering why the persistent gaps in pay and position remain, several factors are at play here including corporate culture. Corporate culture and societal norms are both key factors for review on this topic, and to make additional strides, it is equally important to assess how women may unwittingly contribute to these stubborn workplace imbalances and what can be done about it.
The big question is, are women setting themselves up to lose by getting these six things wrong?
- Women don't ask for more - they don’t negotiate as well for themselves and don’t ask for extra perks.
- Women undervalue their talents and resist the technical stuff (the so called “hard skills”).
- Women don’t own their power to lead and shy away from conflict in the workplace.
- Women tend to need more flexibility in their schedules and spend fewer hours at work than men.
- Women don't pace it - they don't understand that they really can't have it all at once.
- Women are too risk averse - they demonstrate a greater fear of failure.
Smart female leaders can do just about anything we decide to do, and we should be clear on our choices and the consequences for those choices. Every time I ponder this glass ceiling issue and why it has not resolved itself, I can’t help but think about my own personal and professional journey over the past 20 years of my career.
At one point, I was in the working-mother category with young children, and I know all too well the myriad challenges and struggles that come with that, and I have gone through them all. I first served in both paraprofessional and professional positions and progressed over the years to management, leadership and executive positions, and I have experienced firsthand, from both sides of the salary equation, why the position and pay discrepancies occur.
Pay equity should not be based solely on a job title, and I don’t necessarily agree that any two people holding the same job title should automatically be paid the same salary. Performance and service standards, the timeliness and quality of deliverables and value added are huge factors that must also be considered. There are instances where a man should and does make less than a woman and vice versa, and this finding can be fully supported by the merits. However, with all things being equal, the compensation and promotion opportunities should be too and doing otherwise is just wrong.
Below are six things research shows women are getting wrong – still today - and why women are at least partly to blame for the continual glass ceiling and salary gap.
1. Women don’t ask for more – they don’t negotiate as well for themselves and don’t ask for extra perks.
- Katie Shonk with the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, informs us that women are actually better negotiating on behalf of someone else than we are at negotiating for ourselves. Women often start off neglecting to negotiate a better compensation package. This happens because we don’t know our worth. Women need to do the leg work to find out what others are making in the company or in the field. This is often times not readily available information, but it is still worth trying to find it.
- At the very least do research – lots of it - and determine what the position pays on average in the region/state/city you are applying. Learn everything, whatever you can, but avoid going into any salary discussion blind.
- Also women are forgetting about the perks. and comparable to what the company provides to others in executive and/or leadership and management positions.
- Some of these perks may help you accept a position even when your salary negotiation has fallen short (i.e., relocation expenses, housing and/or transportation allowances, an up-front severance package agreement, a larger operating budget and/or more staff, a more significant position title, more vacation time, etc.)
2. Women undervalue their talents and resist the technical stuff (the so called “hard skills”).
Women are often clueless as to the impact of their leadership and executive contributions and are unable to translate and connect said contributions and executive decisions to the benefit of the company or organization in terms of increased services, improved systems and processes, cultural transformations, human capital advancements, increases profits, and return on investment.
Learn about strategy, finance, budgets, performance metrics and analytics and then learn how to translate this data into actionable intelligence that other team members and superiors can use to make informed decisions. Better still, use this information to make proposals that will get others on board with your own executive decisions.
3. Women don’t own their power to lead and shy away from conflict in the workplace.
Women seem timid or afraid to speak up, speak out or otherwise appear disagreeable especially when they may outshine their counterparts or superiors. I have worked with and hired women in leadership positions and am shocked when I see the prevailing lack of confidence, executive presence and ability/willingness to make decisions. Stop giving too much deference to your male counterparts; it can make you look weak, and people will definitely take advantage.
Women too often turn down speaking and presentation opportunities. This is usually driven by fear, and it is sad. It is okay to make a mistake, to fail, to get it wrong. Don't let fear cause you to keep shying away from the spotlight. Step up and create and accept more opportunities to demonstrate your leadership and decision-making process in meetings, in boardrooms, with your own team, etc. Don’t get me wrong; I see this with men too, but I see it much more with women.
Women are running from conflict. If you know about conflict styles and preferences, you know that we each have our own preference for dealing with conflict. However, while we do lean toward a particular preference, we all need to be well equipped to pull from and apply alternate styles as necessary and appropriate so as to better manage and resolve workplace conflict.
Women still suffer from the "need-to-please" disease and care more about being liked than leading. Women should stop worrying about being labeled the “B” word or being called aggressive. So long as you are respectful and tactful, women should and must lean into their power, be direct, assertive and confident in their leadership roles. You are there to make results not friends, and remember - if they don’t respect you, they will not promote you or pay you more.
4. Women tend to need more flexibility in their schedules and spend fewer hours at work than men.
This one is touchy, but true. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, men work an average of 14 more hours per month than women.
Women often times, and for various reasons, need to have special accommodations, more flexible work schedules and use more sick time and vacation time than men. This can become a problem for the employer, and when the employer expresses a need for the woman leader/executive to tailor off some of the flex time, we women want to label the employer as insensitive and say they don’t appreciate or understand work-life balance policies.
I support flexible work schedules (for high performers especially – regardless of gender), but the company/organization’s goals are paramount. When and if any schedule accommodation or flextime begins to impede or hinder services, project deliverables or the quality of work products, the flex schedules and accommodations may need to cease.
Women - before accepting high-level, demanding positions - need to really contemplate whether we can commit to and meet the ongoing demands of the job.
Remember companies don’t hire us to make accommodations for our private lives, and when they do, it’s a privilege (a company benefit) – not an entitlement. If/when women feel it should be an entitlement, we women have gone too far. If we can’t stand the heat, we really do need to just get out of the kitchen instead of always complaining about the heat. Men feel like they are and have been doing it and we should too.
5. Women don't pace it - they don't understand that they really can't have it all at once.
Angela Smith with The Muse asserts that we need to redefine what having it all means. Women need to learn how to pace it; understand they just cannot have it all at once and should be prepared to pace out their personal and professional goals and sacrifice accordingly.
I agree. Men don't even seem to focus on "having it all" and being everything to everyone as women do. We need to prioritize and align our goals so as to have a healthy personal and professional life. Yes - we have to sacrifice some things to have other things. It's the truth, and we need to find a way to deal with it and stop complaining about it.
6. Women are too risk averse - they demonstrate a greater fear of failure.
Risk aversion is an executive career killer. According to Homaira Kabir in Forbes, "Women’s fear of risk-taking begins before they enter the workplace. A paper published in Management Science showed that in a SAT-framed experiment, women skipped nearly twice as many questions as men despite similar knowledge of the material. Even though attempting questions they were unsure about would lead to higher scores by a ratio of one right answer to three wrong ones, something still stopped women from taking the risk. When the penalty was removed, they answered every question."
It has been my experience that women tend to demonstrate a greater fear of failure than men and need to move beyond this in order to seize opportunities and advance careers. I have literally sat in meetings and offered up new challenging opportunities and projects, and – more often than not – the women in the room would defer to the men for project selection.
It is true - women are doing a whole bunch of things right and that is why the needle has moved at all over the decades. The glass ceiling has many cracks in it now. But we still have a ways to go before that glass is indeed broken. So not only do women have areas to improve upon, society, culture and organizations also have huge steps to take as well. Let's each do our part along the way.