Why Women Don’t Ask for Bigger Salaries

Although the wage gap between men and women has been widely publicized, it hasn’t narrowed much in a decade.

In article, The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap (Spring 2015) the author says:

“In 2013, among full-time, year-round workers, women were paid 78 percent of what men were paid.”

Research as to why women get paid less shows multiple reasons. They don’t try to train for the high paying jobs. They have to take time out from their career to bear and (usually) raise the children. They work more part time jobs than men. They don’t ask for higher pay or more opportunities or promotions. Sometimes they don’t even think about what they could want or ask to receive.

Linda Babcock is one of those researchers. She has written a couple of books:

  • Ask for It – How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want and
  • Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide

Her findings indicate that men will ask for what they want much more often than women. On the Lange Money Hour radio show, she explores how this can hurt the female half of a couple when it comes to family finances. For example, if the husband is running the finances (which is true in many couples) and he decides to take a risk with the money, it can end up devastating the family finances. Many women won’t ask their spouse to consider a different approach. When they do, they sometimes suffer for it.

In my own family, a sister-in-law spoke up when her spouse wanted to use the college funds they had saved to send their 4 sons through school to carry a real estate investment through the 2010 recession. They fought over it and he ended up suing her for divorce.

Another situation might be when the man decides to take his social security as early as allowed (age 62), instead of waiting until full retirement age. Since women typically outlive men by 5 – 10 years or so, and since currently the wife can get benefits from her husband’s social security (and vice versa) in many cases, the reduced benefit he gets by taking early social security can affect her ability to live comfortably after he dies.

Women are afraid to ask.

I know that throughout my own life, I have been afraid to ask for what I want and sometimes have even felt that I don’t deserve to even think about having what I want.

I was raised to be a ‘nice girl’, to be considerate of others, to always be polite, not to yell, not to be selfish, to always be of service. After I married, I noticed that my spouse had no trouble at all speaking up for what he wanted, but when I did, there were arguments and anger and resentment. It didn’t take long to quell any thoughts of going after what I wanted.

Why are women afraid to ask?

Other research, reported in Winning Negotiations: Why Women Don’t Ask expands on that concept.

Jean Clemons is a management communications teacher at Wharton. She says:

“Women are afraid that asking for what they want will make them appear negative, aggressive or pushy.”

Guess what? There is a good reason they are afraid of that. The article goes on to say:

“Michelle Madhok, founder and CEO of SheFinds Media, an online media company that publishes editorial websites about shopping for busy professional women, pointed out that women’s concern that they will appear in a negative light is somewhat justified.

Research shows that women tend to get labeled “arrogant” or “abrasive” much more readily than men, she said.”

Another article: Nice Girls Don’t Ask states that:

“Women often don’t get what they want and deserve because they don’t ask for it.”

They agree with me that it may be partly due to our upbringing, saying:

“First, they often are socialized from an early age not to promote their own interests and to focus instead on the needs of others. The messages girls receive—from parents, teachers, other children, the media, and society in general—can be so powerful that when they grow up they may not realize that they’ve internalized this behavior, or they may realize it but not understand how it affects their willingness to negotiate. Women tend to assume that they will be recognized and rewarded for working hard and doing a good job. Unlike men, they haven’t been taught that they can ask for more.”

“Women who assertively pursue their own ambitions and promote their own interests may be labeled as bitchy or pushy. They frequently see their work devalued and find themselves ostracized or excluded from access to important information. These responses from women’s colleagues and supervisors may not be conscious or part of any concerted effort to “hold women back.” More typically, they’re a product of society’s ingrained expectations about how women should act.”

My theory.

How the heck did this kind of socialization get embedded in our society? I think it dates back to the dawn of time, and to our physical makeups.

Most of earth’s populations developed as patriarchal societies. Men ran things. Why? I think it was because they were physically stronger. I think it was because they beat weaker beings into submission, through verbal and actual physical means. I think it was because women were forced into dependency during childbirth and breastfeeding and were pregnant much of their adult lives due to lack of effective and viable birth control measures.

Because of these things, women learned to modify their behavior simply to survive and ensure the survival of their children. They passed along what they learned to both sons and daughters. Their men passed along the idea that it was OK to ask and demand as well as dominate. A societal culture was created that favored men, that made them feel free to ask for ( or even demand) what they wanted. That same culture taught women that they were at the mercy of men and that they must subjugate their right to ask so that they and their offspring could survive. In time, it became the norm.

Although women’s ability to function independently has risen with the change in society to enable women to become bread winners and to be shed of the constant cycle of pregnancy to which we were previously enslaved, men can still threaten and dominate – and some do.

Speaking up to ask for what women want is not easy when, deep down, we know that we can and probably will be yelled at or punished for doing so. It is nearly impossible for those unfortunate women who still suffer physical and mental abuse from the men in their lives.

Yet knowing the reasons and understanding the cultural role played in causing women not to ask for what they want and need can help us all learn a new lesson.

Realizing that is really is OK and normal for all of us to state our position and ask for what we want frees our minds and sets us on the path toward full utilization of all our human resources.

We need to stop teaching our children that women shouldn’t ask.

For my daughter-in-laws and my granddaughter.

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