You Earn More Than I Do

Here is an article on the differences between women’s and men’s pay, sent to the WIT group by Denise McInerney (Twitter) of SQLPASS.  It says, in part:

In the Harvard Business Review blog, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox wrote: “… too often focus on small, sensational and misleading parts of the story, including aspects like the wage gap.”

Catalyst’s February 2010 Pipeline’s Broken Promise  report examining high potential graduates from top business schools around the world found that, even after taking into account experience, industry and region, women start at lower levels than men, make on average $4,600 less in their initial jobs, and continue to be outpaced by men in rank and salary growth. Only when women begin their post-MBA career at mid-management or above do they achieve parity in position with men — a situation that accounted for only 10 percent of the women and 19 percent of the men surveyed.

Chicks, man

I’ve done a little bit of talking, reading, thinking, and writing about women’s issues this year, and it’s led me to the conclusion that the pay difference is a little more complex than I had understood.

Equal pay for equal work probably started out in reaction to direct and unjust wage practices, i.e., women being paid less for the same job simply because they weren’t men.  While pockets of that may exist here and there, I think the situation today is very different.  I’ve already done my research for the summer on the subject, so today I’ll stick to my own observations, experiences, and theories.

Without making this uncomfortable – nobody likes talking about money – let’s get a little personal: I make significantly less than Sean. In my particular situation, there are several things going into that difference:

  1. He has much more experience, and is more highly certified.
  2. As a contributing editor for multiple publications (and as a speaker), he has more industry recognition than I do.
  3. I took some time “off” (off as a full time SQL pro, though I was still doing work and study) to be with my sons when they were little.
  4. I’ve chosen to work part-time right now to spend more time with my kids (my youngest is 2 1/2).

Now, #1 makes a huge amount of difference; more experience should get paid more. #2 is a big one, too.  Taking time off to have a family (#3) and working part time (#4) put me “behind” in my career, so to speak, but it’s worth it.

Women, in my observation, are the ones most likely to be the primary caretaker – I suspect that overall, we take more time off from work with kids, make certain kinds of career sacrifices for kids, etc.  I know sometimes the situation is equal, or reversed, but I still think that the rule holds true if you look at the numbers for large groups.  That’s one aspect that can factor in.

But the article above says that the study takes experience into account. Clearly, stay at home moms and part time workers aren’t the only factor.  I’ve also heard some talk about women being less competitive, or less likely to negotiate salaries. I have felt uncomfortable bargaining for a better wage in the past…that may factor in.

I wonder too if there’s a difference in attitudes.  These days, the best way to get a raise is to change jobs. Could we postulate that (again, generally speaking) women are more prone to stay in a position for the security?

As usual, I have more questions than answers. The good news is that I’m in good company; of the many papers and articles, I have yet to read where a person says, “I have the answer to the wage gap!”, and everyone agrees.

What else might factor in?  Minus 10,000 points if you suggest that women are less analytical than men, and, therefore, that we’re not as smarterer. </funny>

Happy days,

Jen McCown

 Edit: Topical XKCD must be included:

9 thoughts on “You Earn More Than I Do”

  1. Interesting post, Jen. The thing that jumped out at me from the article was “…after taking into account experience, industry and region, women start at lower levels than men, make on average $4,600 less in their initial jobs”. To me this suggests that the salary negotiation piece of this is key, especially when starting a new job. Raises are usually a percentage of base salary, so if you start off making less, you are going to continue to make less (barring promotions, job changes, etc.) My evidence is anecdotal, but I do think women are less likely to ask for more or believe that they are worth more. Attitudes are involved, but maybe it’s women’s attitudes that need to change.

  2. Agreed. Perhaps a next step, then, is more emphasis on job hunting and salary negotiation (which, again, I might’ve looked on with a rolling eye in years past…)

  3. I think there may also be a matter of perception in play here also, this may come from one of two points of view depending upon the camp in which you fall:

    Women tend to undervalue themselves when it comes to salary negotiation.

    Conversely, it could be that:

    Men tend to overvalue themselves when it comes to salary negotiation.

    Salary negotiations, like finding a new job, interviewing, selling stuff, buying stuff, it’s all a game and when you’re in these situations you have to look at is this. Consider, I’m the purchaser and you’re the seller.

    It’s your job to figure out how high you can push your price without me walking away empty handed. It’s my job to get you to knock your price as low as I can without you walking away from the sale.

    In salary negotiations, it’s the same. My first order of business is to figure out whether your budget is truly what you say it is or whether you’re bluffing. My second order of business is to figure out what my value to you is – do I have you over a barrel, or am I easily replaceable? In an ideal world, I’ll figure figure out you’re bluffing and will have a good idea of what your real budget is and I’ll have you over a barrel – in this situation I can set my own salary and you’ll have no choice but to pay it. As the employer it’s your job to sell that your budget doesn’t have the room for a salary increase and I won’t figure out you’re bluffing. It’s also your job to sell me the view that I’m easily replaceable, thus enticing me to believe that the 4% being offered is a good deal.

    So (at least in part) it doesn’t come down to whether you’re a man or a woman, but it comes down to who is the better salary negotiator, the employer or the employee?

    Consider this scenario, put yourself, a random coworker (woman or man makes no difference for this scenario) doing the same job and your boss on the poker table together. Who wins, who loses and who comes in second place? If you take the farm, chances are, you earn more than me. If your coworker takes the farm, chances are they earn more than you. If the boss takes the farm, chances are his budget’s bigger than he’s letting on, you’re both getting screwed and he’s reaping a huge bonus courtesy of his unspent budget, and more fool you guys for not being able to read his poker face.

    Of course, real life’s a little more grey than that, but you get the picture.

  4. Having interviewed many people over the years, I haven’t found men or women, in general, to be very aggressive about salary. Most people are uncomfortable with it, and, IMHO, most don’t ask for what they could get. So I’m not sure that is applicable here.

    I’d be curious to know what $4,600 means. Is that based on an average salary of $100,000 or $30,000? Makes a big difference.

    I think that Denise has a great point, if you start lower, you tend to stay lower. My take on that is that likely women started with less for a variety of reasons, and I’d say the largest part of that is some level of internal prejudice is being hired by men. Not saying that all men are anything, but there is a bit of bonding advantage that men have with other men, and that can mean that subconsciously (or consciously), you offer less to a woman. I know plenty of men in technology that struggle to work with women. Either they are uncomfortable, attracted, jealous, have a superiority complex, or all of the above.

    It would be very interesting to hear if the women surveyed were hired by men or women? And did that affect the results.

    BTW, my wife earns more than I. We are in slightly different industries, but similar levels of experience. I am fine with that.

  5. “my wife earns more than I. … I am fine with that.” Hah, you should be turning backflips over that! :)

    I’m glad you made the point about men bonding with men; I have said before that while prejudices and the boys’ club mentality aren’t really overt problems any more, it probably still factors in on some level. I quit one job in particular over the conflict that came directly (I believe) from one man that had uncomfortable/jealous/superiority issues with me. (Boy, how’s that for sounding snotty in comments?)

    In all, it’s a complicated issue with a lot of factors. The general consensus seems to favor awareness, education, and time as the solution.

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