What are You Worth? Root Causes of the Wage Gap

wage gapBy Tina Vasquez (Los Angeles)

Novations, a highly regarded global talent development firm with over thirty years of research and development experience, recently conducted a research study that found – and there’s no surprise here – that women are still underrepresented in strategic and leadership roles. Even more disheartening, the firm’s findings also show that women self-rate their contribution lower than men.

The study and its findings were compiled into a white paper entitled Close the Gap: Overcoming Gender Differences in the Workplace and according to Novations, the firm set out not only to investigate these discrepancies, but also to explore the root causes in order to adequately provide women with the information they need to assist them in developing needed skills and overcoming perceived shortcomings. The data used in the study was culled from hundreds of companies who provided information regarding the development of over 2,000 managers and direct reports, though none of these companies wished to comment publicly on their participation in the study.

A Woman’s Worth: According to Women

Much of the findings in the study simply reiterate what too many women already know: even though women comprise over 55 percent of the labor force, attain 50 percent of the undergraduate business degrees obtained each year, and also hold more than half of all the managerial and professional positions in U.S. businesses, they account for just over 9 percent of top executives and just over 15 percent of corporate officers.

Some of the most telling information, however, pertained to the self-ratings that even the most senior-level women in large corporations give themselves. Overall, it was found that women rate themselves lower than men (2.30 vs. 2.47) and according to Novations, this is because “women have been socialized to be modest about their work, particularly in areas traditionally deemed as ‘men’s work’.” This is a clear sign that many women don’t recognize their self-worth or value in a company and Novations asserts that higher self-ratings, such as the ones men give themselves, indicate the use of helpful approaches to developing a career, such as a willingness to take more risks, higher assertiveness in pursuing challenging assignments, and practice gathering support for one’s work.

Another perceived problem that women have in corporate America is that they’re not as willing as men to self-promote. It’s believed that women go about their work so unbelievably differently than men that the “benefits of their unique approaches to work go unmeasured – or unnoticed,” such as building consensus in decision making, providing non-authoritarian leadership, and giving credit to others more often than taking credit for themselves. Many women reading this may not see these as negative characteristics – and technically, they’re not – especially not when considering the fact that teamwork is often lauded as an important and necessary corporate behavior. But realistically it is individual accomplishments and efforts that corporations award with promotions to more senior positions.

Evaluating the Wage Gap

Even when women do achieve the highest level of success in a company, it’s very common for them to experience a wage gap and on average, this means they make about 80 cents for every one dollar their male partners make. It’s incredibly easy to place blame on women or for women to blame themselves for not being assertive enough or for not negotiating a raise, but Hilary Lips, Director for the Center for Gender Studies at Radford University, is of the opinion that blame should not be placed on women and that the pay gap and gender differences experienced in America are a direct result of the choices women make.

In a piece for Women’s Media, Lips asserts that there will always be a pay gap and gender differences in the work force, as long as corporations – and society as a whole – don’t place a greater value on the family concerns that dominate a large portion of the lives of many women in the work force. Even women who do not have children will continue to be paid less and hold less senior positions despite having the same education and the same level of experience as male co-workers because of what can only be described as discrimination.

“Last year, a labor economist from the Economic Policy Institute made the widely-quoted estimate that the gender pay gap would be closed within 30 years. Other commentators state confidently that the gap does not reflect discrimination, but other factors such as the high wages of a few white men and gendered patterns of occupational and educational choice and work experience,” Lips wrote. “The effect of such assertions is to make women feel complacent about the gap—and perhaps to feel that they can avoid its impact by making the right educational, occupational, and negotiation-related choices. Such complacency is unwarranted.”

According to Lips, what society considers important has been made very clear and passed down through generations: Employers feel obligated to provide support to employees when something perceived as “very important” needs to be done outside of the workplace – that is, except when family concerns and the care of children come into play, as these do not fall into the category of “very important.”

“If women and men continue to accept the notion that the domestic and caretaking work traditionally classified as ‘women’s work’ is not important enough for employers to accommodate, the gender gap will never close,” Lips said. “A few individual women may be able to evade the gap by choosing to be childfree, being fortunate enough to have a supportive spouse, and carefully following a model of career advancement that was developed to fit men’s needs. However, to make the gap disappear will require that we stop buying into the idea that the rules are gender-neutral and that men just follow them better than women do. One by one, employers must be convinced to re-examine assumptions that unwittingly place higher value on the type of work men do than on the type of work women do. The most important step in closing the gap is for all of us to give up the notion that, to be treated fairly, a woman must ‘make it in a man’s world’.”