More on negotiation, the wage gap, and self-help nonsense
During my long hiatus, I received an email about negotiation and the wage gap (emphasis mine):
I attended a session last week in which the basic premise was, “A woman earns 77 cents for every dollar a man makes and here’s how to fix that”. The presenter then went on to discuss negotiating a young woman’s first salary out of college since that forms the basis for all subsequent salaries. OK, that makes sense in context. However, when I asked what other factors contributed to the disparity, the presenter basically said that there weren’t any except women not valuing themselves enough to negotiate good salaries.
That didn’t make sense to me, so I did a bit of Googling and kept seeing the same statement without a lot of critical analysis. Your blog was one of the few that seemed to take it on and one post I noticed said you would have more to say. However, I didn’t spot anything after that. Do you know of any articles, blog posts, whatever that addresses the issue of what other causes there may be for the 77/100 problem?
The facilitator of this workshop probably meant well, but he or she was teaching something false and quite possibly harmful. As regular readers know well, the wage gap is not entirely due to negotiation – it’s also the result of straightforward discrimination, occupational differences between genders, the housework and childcare that working women are expected to take on, the cumulative effect of time off for maternity leave and childrearing, and much more. It is true that women are less likely to negotiate a higher starting salary, but women are also more likely to be penalized for negotiating.
A lot of people like to argue that women can overcome sexism through personal action, like developing better negotiation skills. This can be an empowering message, but it’s not really true – becoming more assertive in isolation from the rest of the culture will only get you so far. Addressing the wage gap, if that’s something we want to do, requires big policy changes and new cultural norms.
Too often, messages of personal empowerment become about blame. (Barbara Ehrenreich really skewers the self help movement on this point in Bait and Switch.) If all you need is a positive attitude, then you don’t have child care/a promotion/help around the house because you don’t want it badly enough. Want harder! Stop talking about social change!