The gender pay gap between men and women in several jobs and industries is no secret. Although society is well aware of this non-objective phenomenon, why does it still exist? We hear about this pay gap in all sectors and organizations. Even in Hollywood where one would expect female celebrities to be paid heavy sums of salary, there was controversy surrounding the Hunger Games A-list actress, Jennifer Lawrence. The actress discovered a million-dollar discrepancy between her salary and that of her male co-star, Bradley Cooper. The exposed pay gap was a shocker not to just Lawrence, but to society overall. Taking this Hollywood example and what we know from research on the gender pay gap in organizations, it is imperative to achieve equal pay between men and women in organizations, but several aspects get in the way from achieving this equality. Women leaders and female employees should argue for equal pay in organizations and in the work they do. With each step, the disparity in the pay gap may get closer to being sealed.
This article will cover the impediments that are in the way of achieving equal pay and what women in organizations can do to help achieve and vouch for equal pay for themselves and their fellow peers in the workplace. Each problem is then followed with a solution addressing ways to overcome each specified problem.
Problem #1: Transparency of actual pay.
Many organizations are not able to be open about salaries for all positions (Kavenagh & Thite, 2009). Without this openness, it is not possible to compare one’s pay with another person’s, making it difficult to negotiate a fair salary.
Solution: Organizations should provide information to their employees on the salary range for all job titles, given the associated experience and job duties. Salary ranges can be made available through web channels or job booklets.
Problem #2: Abandon the “fix the women” attitude.
When actress Jennifer Lawrence found out about the salary gap between her and her male colleague, she expressed anger toward herself rather than toward Sony Pictures. This approach of blaming herself correlates with the “fix the women” attitude. This approach supports the innate thought that women are responsible for unfair actions such as inequitable pay (Smith, Simmons, & Thames, 1989).
Solution: In this case, Lawrence blamed her lack of negotiating skills, even though the blame is better placed on the shoulders of the organizations that create conditions that foster pay inequity. Blaming individuals instead of organizations fosters the idea that women need to be “fixed” so that they act more like men, and that organizations are not responsible for unjust situations. Rather than blaming themselves and feeling responsible for unfair actions toward them, organizations should take actions to rectify these situations.
Problem #3: Pressure to stay quiet in regards to discriminatory practices.
Upper management and women earning top salaries may feel uncomfortable challenging or voicing concerns about unequal pay. As a result, unequal pay remains unchallenged. Research shows that women are stuck in a double-bind; where if a woman is seen as violating her gender role by, for example, being taking strong action on her behalf, she may be deemed unlikable. However, if she focuses on being likable, she may not be seen as competent (Eagly, et al., 2003). As a result of trying to avoid this dilemma, some women may be hesitant to speak up about unjust issues in the workplace, as doing so might be seen as violating the expected gender role of being communal.
Solution: Encourage negotiating within your organization. Plenty of research supports that women simply do not ask for what they want (Babcock & Laschever, 2009). It’s not for lack of skill. When women negotiate on behalf of others, they are just as effective negotiators as men (Babcock & Laschever, 2009). Rather, women fail to negotiate for themselves due to the potential consequences of not conforming to gender roles, as described above. Mentors, leaders, and practitioners should suggest to women that negotiating one’s salary is acceptable. Organizational policies can also be revised to show that negotiations of salaries are welcome. Providing mentors where women feel they can speak up about these concerns can help aid in keeping silent about unequal pay. Even when mentors are not provided, women should seek out sponsorship and mentors.
Problem #4: Subtle biases
The gender pay gap for top earners represents societal and cultural norms that linger in organizations nonetheless and continue to promote masculine construal of what it means to be a leader. Women are still seen as unusual inhabitants of leadership roles. Whenever women are in leadership roles, it is enforced by individuals in an organization that there is a “woman leader,” versus when a man is a leader; he is simply the “leader.” As these values and attitudes are reflected in our organizations, subtle biases stay reinforced and trickle throughout the bottom line. Following the norm of men being automatically associated with leader roles, it seems more acceptable that women would be paid less. Traditional attitudes continue to reinforce unfair practices such as unequal pay as the norm. Subtle biases toward traditional attitudes and equating masculinity with leadership play a role in keeping this unequal pay at hand. These attitudes and thoughts trickle down from the top and through to the bottom line and contribute to the reinforcement of an organization’s possible traditional masculine culture. When these subtle biases are prevalent through an organization, phenomena such as unequal pay may be difficult to combat.
Solution: Being aware of these subtle biases is the first step to raising change. Being aware, having transparency on salary information, and being encouraged to negotiate are all possible interventions to battling the subtle biases that exist. Statements to counteract potential bias should also be implemented on organizational policies and employee portals. Having influential and powerful male leaders being aware of the situation would also help counteract these subtle biases. For example, Adam Grant, a Wharton business school professor, collaborated with Sheryl Sandberg in helping to reduce the disappointing low numbers of female M.B.A. students applying for leadership roles and discovered that voicing disapproval of biases seems most effective in eliminating it. When Professor Grant told his class about gender stereotypes in the workplace, there was little change in the number of female M.B.A. students applying for leadership roles. However, when he added the statement, “this is unacceptable,” female students were 53% more likely to apply for leadership roles, compared to the female students who did not hear these statements (Goudrea, 2014). To be effective, voicing disapproval needs to start with top leaders; needs to come from both men and women, and needs to be reinforced at every level of the business and through all levels of the hierarchy.
The unequal pay gap is not an easy situation to handle; but with the interventions suggested above, hopefully, organizations and women leaders can get one step closer to achieving to minimizing the pay gap between men and women.
About the Author
Emily Chan is a Ph.D. student in Organizational Behavior at Claremont Graduate University and a research intern in the LeAD Research Lab. Her research interests include women and leadership, leader development opportunities, and interventions in overcoming workplace bias.
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Eagly, A. H., & Carli, L. L. (2003). The female leadership advantage: An evaluation of the evidence. The leadership quarterly, 14(6), 807-834.
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Kavenagh & Thite, 2009. Human resource information systems: Basics, applications, and future directions.
Smith, K. K., Simmons, V. M., & Thames, T. B. (1989). ” Fix the Women”: An Intervention into an Organizational Conflict Based on Parallel Process Thinking. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 25(1), 11-29.