When internet hackers exposed Sony Pictures’ salary data, Jennifer Lawrence learned she was earning less than her male costars. “Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale, and Bradley Cooper all fought and succeeded in negotiating powerful deals for themselves,” she wrote in the blog, Lenny. “If anything, I’m sure they were commended for being fierce and tactical, while I was busy worrying about coming across as a brat and not getting my fair share.” For most of us, the gap is on a smaller scale, but it can add up over a lifetime. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, reports the 20% gender wage gap will close by 2059 if current trends continue. Research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and The Pew Research Center show women’s earnings lagging men’s by 16 – 21 percent depending on how data is analyzed. So, what can you do?
1. Understand the current landscape. Women have outpaced men in college graduation for two decades in every developed country. Research shows no gender difference in ambition or the willingness to work. Yet women leaders continue to be underrepresented and economically undervalued. Contrary to myth, women do negotiate, but we are uncomfortable when they do because gender norms dictate that women don’t ask, they give. This applies even at the highest echelons of leadership, speaking of which, the latest count on Fortune 500 female CEOs is 4%.
2. Familiarize yourself with research. Stanford University’s experiment where people deemed a candidate unqualified when the resume’ belonged to “Jennifer.” When the name on that resume’ was changed to “John,” the candidate was deemed qualified. What’s more, people who were willing to hire Jennifer offered, on average, $4000 less than they offered John. Columbia University conducted a similar study where a case analysis was evaluated more favorably when evaluators thought it came from a man.3.
3. Be honest about your own bias. Women and men raised in the same culture share assumptions about gender. Both assume that women should have an abundance of soft skills like empathy and collaboration. Both become uncomfortable when they feel a woman is lacking these skills, even if she excels in other areas like analytical ability or strategy.
Coaching HR leaders on structured candidate debriefs to uncover implicit bias is helpful. Since recruiters are organizational gatekeepers, it is important to help them recognize their biases in screening candidates. Gender- and race-blind practices such as assigning numbers, rather than names, to incoming resumes makes a difference.4.
4. Broaden your definition of “feminine” and “masculine.” Actively expand your understanding of gender and reframe qualities like ambition and leadership as implicitly female. Because female-male are a two sides of a coin, we must simultaneously broaden our expectations of men and recognize them as caregivers, not just breadwinners. Paternity leave is central to women’s advancement and gives heterosexual couples a real choice as to who stays home. If men were expected to play a primary role in childcare, it could free women to have the privilege of career focus that men have had for decades.5.
5. Stop asking for salary history. Women’s wages can be improved if we stopped asking for salary history before extending an offer, because we already know that people tend to pay less when the candidate is female. Pay should not be based on the economic value others had placed on her in the past.