Leadership & Communication

Gender Agenda: For women it’s still ‘Mind the Gap’

Jenny Strachan

Jenny Strachan

On March 25, 1928, five young women, one as young as 18, organised the first International Women’s Day rally in Sydney’s Domain. They stood on soap boxes and addressed the crowd on the rights of working women and equal pay for equal work. They kept the rally going for two hours.

Today, more than eighty seven years later, women are still asking for equal pay for equal work. And we’re still not getting it.

The yawning gender pay gap is recorded every year by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the story doesn’t get any better. In 1994 women’s earnings were a mere 66 per cent of men’s. By 2010 that figure was down to 64 per cent.

In February 2015, the ABS recorded that women were still being paid less than men for the work they did and they also did more unpaid work. As a result they reported being more stressed out than male colleagues.

So what’s the solution? Here’s where it gets tricky.

The first thing to remember is that you must place the right value on yourself from the moment you start your career. If you don’t successfully negotiate your wages at the entry point, your retirement earnings on exiting, maybe 40 years later, may well be far less than those of your male counterpart. This is because every increment on your annual salary and superannuation will be based on the figure you first negotiated and if that figure isn’t as high as your colleague’s, the wealth gap between the two of you will just get wider and wider as the years go by.

So, negotiate from the start. But, of course, there’s a snag!

In June 2014, Harvard Business Review published a research article by Hannah Riley Bowles, entitled “Why women don’t negotiate their job offers”. This showed an unexpected social cost for women who negotiated for a higher salary than that offered at interview.

The report says: “One study of graduating MBA students found that half the men negotiated their job offers as compared to one eighth of the women.” Researchers, puzzled why so few women were negotiating their salaries asked more questions and found that if women negotiated for higher pay, whether they got it or not, they found their colleagues were less willing to work with them because by negotiating for themselves, they were showing they were not good team players.

Funnily enough this judgment didn’t seem to apply to the men, four times as many of them, who negotiated for higher pay. They were gladly accepted into the team.

So what should women do?

Bowles recommends an “I-we” strategy, that is “think personally, act communally”. This means asking for what you want but trying to show your colleagues that what you are doing is of value to them as well – and letting your negotiating counterpart know that that you can also see it from their side. An example would be a junior female employee saying: “I’m hopeful that you’ll see my skill at negotiating as something important that I can bring to the job.”

In other words, show you really are a team player. Then the gap might start to close.

By Jenny Strachan

Jenny is an award winning author and international conference presenter and trainer with over 25 years experience in the corporate sector. She has designed and delivered communication, influence, personal presence and leadership programs, and as an executive coach to facilitate change in organisations.

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