When it comes to the gender wage gap, it’s widely believed that women make less than men because, in part, they don’t negotiate for higher salaries as often as men do. There is research to support this idea — but as Vox’s Sarah Kliff has explained, it also doesn’t really do much to account for why the gender wage gap exists.
And now new research suggests that this conventional wisdom may not even be true — that women actually do negotiate for raises and promotions just as often as men, but that they face a penalty for doing so.
This week, McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org, the women’s leadership nonprofit founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, released their second annual report on women in the workplace. It’s the most comprehensive review out there of women in corporate America; it draws on surveys of 34,000 employees on gender, career opportunity, and work-life balance issues, as well as human resources and pipeline data from 132 companies like Visa, Facebook, and General Motors that employ more than 4.6 million people.
The survey asked respondents whether they had lobbied for a raise or a promotion in the past two years — and there was no significant difference between women and men. In fact, women were just slightly more likely to report asking for a promotion (39 percent of women versus 36 percent of men) or a raise (29 to 27 percent).
The results of asking, however, weren’t the same.
Women were more likely than men (30 percent versus 23 percent) to report that after asking for a raise or a promotion, they received negative performance feedback that they were “bossy,” “aggressive,” or “intimidating.”
And despite asking for promotions at roughly equal rates, the report found, women are staggeringly less likely to get promoted across the board than men are. That starts with the first level of promotion; 130 men are promoted to manager for every 100 women, and the gap widens from there.
The drop-off can’t be explained by women leaving their companies in larger numbers than men; attrition rates are also roughly equal between men and women, according to the report. This progressively narrowing promotion pipeline is one reason there are so few women in high-level positions, the report notes, especially CEO.
This disparity is even starker for women of color: Even though black, Hispanic, and Asian women make up 20 percent of the US population, and even though studies show that women of color are more ambitious about reaching high-level positions, women of color only make up 3 percent of C-suite positions.
Another recent study also found that women negotiate just as much as men but are less likely to get what they ask for. The study, conducted by researchers from the Cass Business School in London, the University of Warwick in the UK, and the University of Wisconsin, looked at survey data from 4,600 workers in 840 workplaces in Australia.
The researchers said their data allowed them to control for variables that previous researchers couldn’t — especially the number of hours worked. People who worked fewer hours, whether male or female, were less likely to negotiate or to be in a position to do so.
The study found that women are about 25 percent less likely than men to actually get a pay raise when they ask for it — even though they’re asking at about the same rates.
All of this is consistent with other research that shows women face a backlash for seeming too aggressive.
“More women are leaning in — and we’ll all go farther when the workplace stops pushing back,” Sandberg wrote.