Research Shows One Way for Women to Be Paid Equally to Men is to Know Their Worth and Ask For It

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It may still come as a shock to some that in nearly every industry and particularly in finance, women are paid less then men—a lot less. In the U.S., the median pay for women is 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, and for every dollar a man makes on Wall Street, a woman earns only 55 to 62 cents, U.S. Census data shows.

Research finds that part of the problem is that women are all too willing to accept the status quo without argument and that they need to hone skills that will help them speak up and command what they’re really worth.

A recent study by Maura Belliveau, an associate professor of management at Long Island University in New York, finds that managers will tend to pay men more simply because women are apt to accept rationalizations as to why they’re entitled to only so much pay.

This research was composed of two studies examining how managers' pay decisions for male and female employees are affected by their ability to provide explanations or “social accounts” to employees regarding pay policies and pay disparity. “I theorized that managers would treat social accounts as substitutes for pay for women but not for men,” leading managers to show injustices toward female employees, Belliveau says in an abstract of her report.

Her study of 184 managers involved a scenario in which they were told they had a set amount of money to distribute to employees with identical skills and responsibilities. Managers who learned before making pay decisions that they could provide an explanation of circumstances justifying low raises paid women less than men, and, even more interestingly, women who were not entitled to any explanation regarding their pay packages received more money as well.

Men’s Raises Were Almost 2.5 Times More

In fact, raises for men were nearly 2.5 times larger than those for women, said Belliveau. She observes that the status quo remains firmly in place and that it can promote a vicious cycle: Men had little to fear from superiors unable to negotiate their salaries—as they already had a fairly good raise coming up—and when female workers tried to negotiate, they were at a disadvantage because most of the money was already intended for male employees.

What’s a woman in finance to do?

Learn what they’re worth and don’t be willing to take less without a really good reason. Recruiter Janice Detta Colli, managing director with Boyden Toronto, offers the following tips:

  • Know the going rate for your skill sets. One way to do this is to join local or national associations that relate to the career you have now or the career you aspire to in the next five years.  “Associations usually spend money on salary and other types of surveys that provide data so women will know where they stand in their field,” Detta Colli tells eFinancialCareers. “Also, this is an excellent place to network and seek out advice from women who are more senior, and have been there, on how to advance their career and salaries.“

  • Form relationships with a few key executive recruiters who are open to sharing information about their industry recruiters. They will often provide advice or information about pay rates.

  • Showcase your talent. “Women should seek out at least two mentors—one internal and one external,” says the recruiter, observing that “the internal mentor can help with level-setting in terms of skills and compensation within the firm” as well as providing political context.

  • If a woman has comparable or superior skills, knows her worth and has asked more than once for a raise with no result, she needs to consider looking for a new place to work, says Detta Colli.

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