And it’s not about the confidence gap, either
The recent flurry of interest in the gender pay gap has rightly put a spotlight on the differential in earnings between men and women.
Over ten thousand organisations recently returned their first gender pay gap reports and, whilst unsurprising for many, the statistics confirm a gap on average earnings in favour of men. In fact, nearly 80% of firms identify that men are, on average, earning more. Whilst it can be argued that it’s a bit of a blunt instrument, putting these data into the public domain and forcing organisations to think about what’s going on in their firms is a positive move.
But what is going on?
If it’s been illegal to pay men and women differently for the same work for decades, why are we still seeing a pay gap?
While the moral and business case for more equally distributed pay is abundantly clear, these new data are highlighting just how skewed a great many firms are in regard to not only pay, but access to higher earning roles and access to bonus structures for women. But, the problem here is not just simply about pay, there’s a complex mix of structural, cultural and social pressures in play that demands an intelligent and nuanced response if long lasting and effective resolutions are to be found to the inequity.
The low confidence woman – fact or myth?
It’s been a bit of a generally accepted mantra that women lack the confidence to move from middle management into leadership or higher paying roles. Indeed the ‘leaky funnel’ that delivers a sharp drop off of women making it into leadership, board or high paying roles in traditionally higher paying (but perhaps, traditionally male dominated) sectors is well established.
The argument is often put that if only women would fix themselves to be more confident, we’d be awash with women in board rooms and in leadership roles and engineering or as pilots for example. Or, if women would ‘just grow a set’ and be more aggressive in negotiating better bonuses, they’d be raking it in like the blokes.
If only they’d just fix themselves.
Well, it’s just not true. My research into women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics suggests that women do have confidence. Not the ‘in your face, bluff and bluster… ohhh look how fabulous I am’ type of confidence that others might have, and which is so often rewarded in the workplace, but a quiet confidence; an inner confidence that suggests if they had the opportunity they could take on the world. And be bloody good at it, too.
Where the deficiency lies is not within themselves, but in their lack of expectation that their confidence will transpire into making change happen around them. This is also known as self-efficacy. That is, can they, with their capability, talent and motivation actually make an impact in organisations that are fundamentally not set up for them or the way in which they work?
For example, women spoke of missing out on promotions because their career path had been built in such a way that they did not have access to the same experiences as their male colleagues, thus preventing them from meeting often arbitrary and antiquated advancement selection criteria.
Women talked of not being able to negotiate on the same terms for bonuses because the performance management processes failed to recognise the entirety of their contribution and over prioritised aspects to which they had little access.
Both young and mature women spoke of their experiences of feeling like a phoney in their own roles because it was implausible that they should be there as one of a handful of women in non-traditional roles (e.g. engineering and leadership). Several interviewees suggested that women were so rare in the boardroom and in senior leadership spaces that when asked, male board members had no idea where the female rest room was located. So too, it was not uncommon to hear stories of women attending meetings as a participant and being given the coats and coffee orders of male colleagues.
Women complained that their ideas were routinely discounted until expressed by a man and so their capacity to be heard and to be seen as making a valuable contribution was diminished.
These frequent micro (and not so micro) lapses of colleague judgement and systems failures converge to diminish a sense of control and a sense of entitlement to equity of opportunity as well as rewards.
It’s a complex mix
My research suggests that a complex mix of socially learned and culturally perpetuated opinions, behaviours and organisational structures are impacting on the individual’s capacity develop self-efficacy and to achieve more in their work and in their work environments. This inevitably means that both individuals and organisations must ‘unpick’ these elements and rebuild them in a manner that levels the playing field and provides equity of access as well as equity of pay for everyone. Without such an initiative the pay gap will remain.
Words: Dr Terri Simpkin
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