Women in management positions earn 13% less than men according to the findings of the 16th report on the ‘Gender pay gap and female presence in management in Spain’, published in February 2022 in Spain. The study revealed that while a female manager will earn 78 thousand euros a year her male counterpart will earn 88 thousand euros. This means that women earn on average 10 thousand euros less a year than men.
Why does this gender pay gap still exist and what can we do to change these figures?
The pay gap is as persistent as the implicit discrimination rooted in our unconscious biases. Studies show that, without being aware of it, people underestimate the job performance of women and overestimate that of men. Studies also reveal that many people would rather work for a man than with an assertive woman: when women act assertively, they are perceived as aggressive. However, if they are congenial, they are perceived as less competent.
In addition to implicit discrimination, it is important to understand the differences in values and the characteristics of men and women. This is exemplified in academic studies that show that, on average, women place less importance on the pursuit of power and money than men. They are also less competitive, take less risks and are willing to sacrifice salary in exchange for greater flexibility in their work-life balance.
These implicit biases and differences in values and characteristics are the result of cultural social pressure. In the past, women’s main role in society was to take care of the home while men were the providers. Times have changed, but women still feel the pressure to continue in the same role. This explains why women still spend more time on housework, reduce their working day, and put their professional careers on hold to raise a family. Men, on the other hand, still face social pressure to provide for their families. One student told me that he would prefer not to accept a management promotion because he wanted to stay at home with his newborn son. However, he felt uncomfortable telling his boss about it for fear of being penalised at work.
Differences that translate into a wage gap
Biases and differences between men and women are an important part of understanding the existing pay gap because they translate into differences in key behaviours that help a person achieve a good salary. For example, as a result of being less prone to risk-taking and competitiveness, studies show that women negotiate less on pay compared to men. It is not that women are worse at negotiating; in fact, studies show that women are better at negotiating salaries for other people than for themselves.
This makes sense because when a woman negotiates pay assertively, she can be perceived as aggressive and unfriendly. Our brains are not used to seeing a woman acting in a stereotypically masculine way. Women must therefore walk the fine line between assertiveness and congeniality. If they are assertive, they may be perceived as disagreeable and if they are pleasant, they may not be taken seriously.
What can we do?
Firstly, we need to be aware that implicit biases exist as a result of social pressure that also influences our decision-making. This is why we need human resources policies that help us to act objectively. For example, a pay transparency policy in which companies publish the pay bands for different positions would really help women during a pay negotiation. By exposing this gender pay contradiction, women would have a greater power of negotiation. It is also important to have a clear and transparent career plan that helps to inform both men and women of what they need to achieve in order to receive a pay rise.
Secondly, women must learn to negotiate for themselves as if they were negotiating for others. For this to happen, it is important to know how to use objective criteria when discussing a pay adjustment. If we know the average salary of a person in the same position as us, we can use this to negotiate our salary by simply demanding fair pay.
Thirdly, women must be aware of the fine line between assertiveness and amiability; women must be assertive and demand fair pay, but at the same time be aware of the difficulties they will have, unfortunately, to create stronger relationships or achieve a better outcome as a result of demonstrating assertiveness.
And finally, we need to promote a cultural change where men and women feel comfortable about choosing their own values without any pressure from our society and culture. In an ideal world, there would be greater co-responsibility in parenting. Times have changed and it is now time for us to act.
Written by Dr. Aline Masuda, Professor in the Department of Strategy, Leadership and People at EADA and co-author of the report The wage gap and female presence in management 2022 EADA-ICSA