Salaries for women still lag

By Edyta Zielinska

According to the nonprofit Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology, female professors still earn around 80% of their male counterparts' salary. Some have argued that women and minorities aren't paid as much because they don't push as hard for the higher salaries, but two recent studies challenge that argument.

Dorceta Taylor (Bioscience, 57:175-85, 2007) showed that more women enrolled in science and engineering programs expected...

A factor that compounds the gender inequity in salaries over time is that women's salaries don't increase as quickly as men's. "One potential interpretation of that data is that women need more negotiation training or confidence," says Hannah Riley Bowles, a professor of public policy at Harvard University and primary author of a study on gender differences during salary negotiations (Organ Behav Hum Decis Process, 103: 84-103, 2007). Her study shows that women face higher social risks than men do when they attempt to negotiate salary.

Overall, women were less inclined than men to negotiate, particularly when the evaluator was male. The women explained that nervousness prevented them from asking for a raise, rather than a belief that they would be denied the request or experience backlash. One possible explanation for the nervousness was the finding that both men and women said they didn't want to work with women who negotiated. Women who asked for raises were perceived as "less nice, or overly demanding" by both men and women, but "it didn't matter as much if the men negotiated," says Bowles.

When the evaluator (or boss) was female, men and women asked for raises at similar frequencies. Female evaluators, however, said they didn't want to work with either men or women who negotiated.

Bowles is hopeful that her research will elucidate social norms that most people may not be aware of. While "society corrects itself," Bowles suggests keeping in mind who you're negotiating with and remaining friendly and confident. "The better someone knows you, the less they'll fall back on gender norms."

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