Why is He Paid More Than Me?

The feisty, fabulous character Clare Underwood, from the immensely popular series House of Cards is easy to simultaneously admire and abhor. However, her real life alter ego Robyn Wright, is easy to admire without conditions. Why? Because she stepped fearlessly into tricky territory for women. She asked for her own personal gender pay gap to be closed. She asked for a pay rise.

Why is He Paid More Than Me?

Wright like many other women, discovered that her co-star was being paid more than she, to the tune of $80K per episode. She pitched to her boss for a raise. She negotiated based on facts related to her performance across a number of key performance indicators. The critical KPI being viewer popularity, where she equalled or outperformed her (then) screen colleague Kevin Spacey.  Whilst I admire Wrights feistiness in her approach to her negotiation (‘pay me the same as Kevin or I go public’) that tactic isn’t available to most women in the corporate world.  However, in publicising the approach she took, perhaps leaders who read this can understand the lengths that women are compelled to go to simply be paid fairly.

Women Are Penalised

Women’s wallets are penalised from the outset. They’re generally starting behind the mark due to a range of factors that start from graduation programs, (which typically under-hire and under-pay women versus men) due to gendered stereotypes about women’s work (jobs that pay lower salaries) and the lions share of income impacting caring responsibilities (children, parents) being shouldered by women. Then there is just plain discrimination, as the recent Billabong Ballot Pro surfing competition scandal taught us.

Advancing Women Billabong Ballito Pro Scandal
📸 Sydney Morning Herald

However, women are further penalised when they do ask for a raise. In this recent study by HBR, we discover that women are asking for pay rises at similar rates to men (as opposed to previous information which indicated women do not ask). However, due to bias and expectations about ‘asking behaviour’, they are less likely to be granted a pay rise, even when disparity exists.

“The bottom line is that the patterns we have found are consistent with the idea that women’s requests for advancement are treated differently from men’s requests.  Asking does not mean getting – at least if you are a female.”


What Can I Do?

This is yet another opportunity for leaders to critically examine their own bias and behaviours when it comes to salary negotiations.  Here are three things that leaders must do to even the playing field for women in the workplace:

  1. Clarity: Leaders must create a culture where the rules about salary negotiation are well-known.  Workers need to be explicitly told that wage negotiation is permitted, or not. As the HBR study says ‘when the “rules of wage determination” are left ambiguous, men do tend to negotiate higher pay.’
  2. Process: Leaders must develop objective criteria to evaluate requests for salary increases. Train all people leaders how to use the criteria. Train all people leaders how to effectively manage salary review requests.
  3. Bias: Leaders must publicly acknowledge we all have bias and make it part of open discussion. Take proactive steps for continuous awareness and education activity to combat bias during performance reviews, salary negotiations, recruitment and promotion evaluations.

Now What?

If you’re a woman who believes she is being paid less than what she’s worth, then start the process to secure a salary increase. Nothing takes the place of preparation including understanding your organisations policy on salary reviews, being clear about what you can ask for in your remuneration and benefits package, being clear about your expectations and also preparing by undertaking your own salary benchmarking.

If you are a leader, I’ve already given you your tips. However, I’ll add another two in.

  • Firstly, do not try to explain the gender pay gap away. It exists. It is up to you to make sure it does not exist in your workplace.
  • Secondly, there is nothing to stop any people leader, in any organisation, undertaking a proactive and critical review of the salaries paid to your team, in order to proactively take steps to close gendered pay gaps.

I’ve said this often, the burden of inclusion should not be placed on the excluded. This principle applies to gendered pay gaps too. So, what are you waiting for?

I advise organisations how to move gender equality from conversation to action. If you want to start or accelerate your gender action plan, I’d love to hear from you. Contact me HERE

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