It seems impossible that gender pay differences are still a thing - but they are.
Last month, the National Bureau of Economic Research published a paper entitled Do Women Avoid Salary Negotiations? which explored salary negotiations between men and women. Researchers Andreas Leibbrandt and John A. List concluded that:
‘when there is no explicit statement that wages are negotiable, men are more likely to negotiate than women. However, when we explicitly mention the possibility that wages are negotiable, this difference disappears, and even tends to reverse…men in contrast to women prefer job environments where the ‘rules of wage determination’ are ambiguous. This leads to the gender gap being much more pronounced in jobs that leave negotiation of wage ambiguous.’
So in a nutshell, men are more likely to presume they can negotiate, women are only likely to do so when invited, but when asked they perform well, and there seems to be little difference between genders, the condition can even work in a woman’s favour. Why do women only feel compelled to negotiate when invited to? Although many of my friends spend a great deal of time confidently negotiating ‘personal’ time their confidence and skills never seem to extend to the office. Is it because they want to avoid unnecessary conflict with their boss? Because they’re asking the wrong person? Because they’re not used to, or were never encouraged to ask for what they want and feel they deserve?
Almost ten years ago Sara Laschever and Linda Babcock were asking similar questions in their groundbreaking book Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, and it feels a little disheartening that, in a decade, there’s been little progress. I know a really smart girl who works for a well-known law firm. She recently attempted to negotiate a pay rise following a resoundingly positive yearly review. She asked, and was prepared to negotiate – a step forward – but was refused by her boss, who then undermined her decisions and passed her over for case research. Despite asking, she was punished for it – dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t, right?
As a freelancer I’m used to negotiating day and work rates – it goes with the territory. When I first started out I was uncomfortable with working out my ‘market value’ in cold hard cash, regularly underselling my work and myself. I asked around and found out what friends were charging for similar jobs, and then pretended I was compiling rate cards for someone else – it was just another freelance job. I gradually built up my confidence, got used to being my own agent and talking up my strengths.
Now, I find that in interviews for full-time jobs I tend to self deprecate and sell myself short, but when it comes to building a relationship with a start-up business owner or an editor I’m confident, capable and most importantly of all, believe in myself and my skills. That’s not to suggest I’m perfect – far from it – I often have to give myself pep talks on the way to meetings and I’m terrified of presenting to groups of more than six people, but I’m proud that I know my worth and am able to charge clients accordingly.