That ole glass ceiling still isn’t cracked

Posted by on May 17, 2010 in Work/occupation | 10 comments

You know that pay gap that our Feminist friends have been battling for decades now? It’s still there.

I’m not especially shocked by this revelation. However, what I am a bit shocked about is that contention that the foundation of gender pay disparities rests on a woman’s ability to negotiate salary increases, so much so, that they require a “toolkit” to work their way around this issue.

Reporter Tara Siegel Bernard, who writes about negotiating strategies in this New York Times piece explains that “part of the pay gap” can be easily explained by women’s departure from the workplace to raise a family (leaving them with less experience than their male peers) or that men “tend to work in higher-paying occupations.” Yet, she still quotes a source that claims that about about 40% of the wage gap is unexplained, which is accounted for, at least in part, by women’s negotiating skills (or lack thereof). Her advice?  Be proactive and prepared (great advice) but more importantly, “tailor” your negotiation. This means that women not only need to explain why their request is appropriate but also be sure not to harm their work relationships. Hence, a woman should frame her request based on the company’s needs rather than her own. Additionally, a woman should reexamine how her raise (and theoretically greater responsibility) might affect their home lives.

Say what?!

What year are we living in? And why should women be expected to negotiate merit-based salary increases in a way that is soothing to their bosses? Isn’t this a strategy that ultimately perpetuates the gap and glass ceiling and gender inequities?

When I worked in the corporate world, I was averaging 2o% salary increases on a yearly basis. Those increases were based on merit, performance and the amount of business I was running on the company’s behalf. I did not mince words, massage my requests or consider if rewards for my hard work would negatively affect other commitments in my life. Granted, the days of large salary increases are long gone. But so should the days of granting rewards based on gender be gone.

Bernard also writes that women who leave the formal workplace ultimately end up with less experience than their male counterparts. In a day and age where women (and men) are increasingly entering the world as work-at-home consultants or telecommuters, the experience argument goes right out the window. In fact, I recently read that more and more people prefer to consult on a shorter-term basis, moving from job to job or field to field with ever greater ease.

Finally, while many women choose lower paying career paths, many do not. In fact, according to a recent global survey (which I wrote about late last year) women own 40% of all US businesses and about 51% work in high-paying management, professional and related fields. (U.S. Department of Labor, 2008).

I believe that it’s imperative to provide women with proper guidance and education that empowers them and helps them lower that glass ceiling and narrow disparities in the workplace. Let’s start by fighting the stereotypes and treating them as equal players on the field.

What do you think?

10 Comments

  1. 5-17-2010

    It drives me nuts when they say that this has to do with women leaving the workforce to have kids. There are tons of us who don’t have children and are very career-oriented & driven. We don’t leave, therefore, we have the same amount of experience and skills as the men who don’t leave.

    The biggest problem is that women have a hard time asking for something, even if they deserve it. Men are much better at standing up and asking for it. Women: get off your butts and stick up for yourselves. If they say no & there’s absolutely no reason for you not to get it, find something else to do that you’re valued for doing.

    • 5-17-2010

      I think that there are a lot of stereotypes being perpetuated, which is why I had to write about this. I agree that women need to step up and ask for what they need. But I don’t agree that the approach needs to be sugarcoated. We will never gain equality without acting that way.

      Thanks for commenting Melanie!

  2. 5-17-2010

    Seems like women are still the second sex in so many areas, and face a lot of subtle discrimination and different expectations. Sometimes we are not even aware of the shifts in our thinking or behaviors but lots of studies document them, whether it’s an HR assistant who throws out many of the resumes with names that sound “black” or Latina or male bosses who assume a young mother wouldn’t want to vie for a promotion because of her family commitments.

    The glass ceiling exists and even where there’s cracks, women get scratched up climbing through. You can read about them among the EEOC media releases on glass ceiling or unfair wage discrimination settlements with Outback Steak House, Wal-Mart and others. And you can combat them by speaking up, asking questions and holding your organization accountable.

    • 5-17-2010

      So very true Vickie. Speaking up and accountability are key.

  3. 5-17-2010

    Have you seen that Elena Kagan is getting heat for *not* being a mom? Like perhaps she’s not qualified because she *didn’t* leave the work force? Melanie over at SavvyAuntie.com was talking about it this morning.

    We are still living in a completely bizarre no-win world for women.

    • 5-17-2010

      I have been following it. And it makes me a wee bit ill. It’s time that we all started speaking up.

  4. 5-20-2010

    “Tailor” our negotiation for raises? I agree, Liz. What year is this? I even had a hard time using the words “tailor” and “negotiation” in the same sentence. Why waste time in a relationship when the other party doesn’t value your worth? Why waste energy negotiating when you know you’ll end up with less than you deserve? Yes, the glass ceiling exists, but is it further perpetuated by a faulty belief system centered around “choicelessness”? After years of believing I had no choice but to endure unfair treatment in the workplace, I decided to start my own business. Essentially, I choose to create my own game. Starting a business may not be the right choice for every women, but I believe we’ve got more choices than we think. We just have believe this to be true. Nice post, Liz.

    • 5-20-2010

      Terri – it amazes me that women continue to be thrown back decades and go along in agreement. When I read the piece, I was both insulted and amazed. I love your characterization of the glass ceiling and “choicelessness.” Perhaps that, as you say, is the key: we have no choice but to create our own scenarios. Thanks for reading!

  5. 5-23-2010

    We may have come a long way, baby; but, do we women ever have a long way yet to go. It is imperative that women ask for — and negotiate — raises. In their book Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, Carnegie Mellon economist Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever cited research showing that men initiate negotiations four times more often than women do. I understand where author Bernard is coming from with her advice for more ‘nuanced’ negotiations, e.g. that women who do negotiate like the fellas get labeled with a nasty word starting with the letter “b” — yet what this position does is let men off the hook for embracing an incorrect stereotype.

    I love what Alison Maitland, co-author of “Why Women Mean Business” has to say — that gender “bias is often unconscious until people are made aware of it. It’s rooted in the systems, expectations and ways of behaving in organizations that were designed and built by and for men in another era – when men were the primary, and often the sole, breadwinners. The key to change is committed leaders at the top of companies who understand gender balance is a business issue, not an issue women must solve.”

    • 5-23-2010

      Great comment Jane. Although I disagree that it’snot an issue that women must solve. If women don’t take the initiative to solve it, who will? I think that history shows that the only way to make change is to take change, not wait for it.

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