Stop blaming women for not pushing for pay rises

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Kasey Edwards

According to the research, "Attempting to negotiate for higher compensation had no effect on men's willingness to work ...

According to the research, "Attempting to negotiate for higher compensation had no effect on men's willingness to work with men, but it had a significantly negative effect on men's willingness to work with women." Photo: Stocksy

Ladies, are you paid less than your male colleagues? Are you constantly overlooked for promotion even though you have more qualifications than your CV can fit? 

Well guess what? You only have yourselves to blame.

That's the message from some of the speakers at yesterday's Male Champions of Change Program event. The Program enlists the top men in business — male CEOs and Chairpersons — to address gender inequality in the workplace.

As Goldman Sachs Australia chief Simon Rothery told the assembled, women tend to be much more modest and less aggressive around pay issues.

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"We have just been through bonus season and there is a line out my office for the month before telling me what a great job they have done this year and it is 100 per cent male."

And ANZ chief executive Mike Smith said that, 'Men bulls--t their way through things but women tend to be very honest about their experiences.'

You hear that, ladies? The gaping pay gap, the appalling representation of women on boards, the discrimination pregnant women and mothers face: it's all our fault. If only we'd thought to ask for that raise, talked more bulls--t in meetings and thumped the boardroom table a little more aggressively.

Never mind that research shows that when women ask for pay rises it can backfire on them. Women who try to negotiate are perceived by both men and women as being 'too demanding'.

In a 2007 study  published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Linda Babcock, Hannah Riley Bowles and Lei Lai 
found that women who negotiate pay a high price — and one that extends well beyond the performance review conversation.

According to the research, "Attempting to negotiate for higher compensation had no effect on men's willingness to work with men, but it had a significantly negative effect on men's willingness to work with women."

In short, asking for a pay rise is only an effective strategy if you have a penis. When women are assertive in the workplace they are seen as being a 'ball breaker' a 'bitch' or 'too emotional'. Assertive men on the other hand are seen to be strong and dedicated.

And when it comes to women struggling to fit their childcare responsibilities into an inflexible workplace, well it would seem that that's our fault too.

CBA chief executive Ian Narev said that more flexible options are available, we just have to ask for them and stop being so sensitive about being judged by our peers.

"A lot of the difficulty of this flexibility is people actually understanding that they have more degrees of flexibility than they believe they have but they are extremely worried about what their colleagues think about them," he said.

I'm going to give these male champions of change the benefit of the doubt and assume that they meant well. But may I suggest that at your next meeting, rather than wasting time talking about how everything would be fine if women would just act more like men, how about you look at the real cultural and structural issues that advantage men and limit the progress of women.

Maybe you could start by pondering why, when Lucinda Nolan was interviewed about potentially becoming Victoria's police commissioner, the three things that were reported most were: how many children she has, how the job would impact her home life and why her voice sounds funny, and what that shows about the way powerful women are treated.

Or, if that sounds a bit radical, how about questioning the wisdom of encouraging women to be less honest and to 'bulls--t' the way men do? As a management consultant, I've sat around enough boardroom tables to see where all this bulls--t has gotten us.

If our male champions of change decree that women are to blame for gender inequality — the implication being that they don't even deserve it because they haven't earned it — then you have to wonder what they are actually changing.

Kasey Edwards is a management consultant and best-selling author. www.kaseyedwards.com