It’s no secret that the median pay for women working in the United States is less than the median pay for men.
The wage gap has been shrinking over the past 50 years, but the Washington, D.C.-based National Committee on Pay Equity says the median salary for women in 2011 was still only 77 percent of men’s.
That’s up from 59 percent five decades ago.
There have been a lot of changes in the workplace since then. Women have forged their way into the executive suites, and although they don’t constitute half of the executives in our workplaces, they more often own and operate companies today than they did in the past.
Still more than half of the women in the U.S. workforce hold jobs in low-paying occupations such as sales, clerical, and service jobs.
But a new study finds that there might be another contributing factor.
In the publication Psychology of Women Quarterly, authors Hannah Riley Bowles and Linda Babcock found a simple truth: Women are reluctant to directly ask for a raise.
The anticipation of social backlash or pay discrimination sometimes undermines the efforts of women to be justly compensated for their work, Bowles and Babcock say.
In part of their study, participants were asked to watch a video in which newly promoted females sought a pay raise. The women in the videos began their salary negotiations by saying things such as “I hope it’s OK to ask you about this,” and, “My relationships with people here are very important to me.”
Those watching the video were less likely to agree to salary increases when women started conversations like this.
When the newly promoted women took a more direct approach and revealed that they had been offered another job with a higher salary, they were more likely to win a pay raise.
Men are more likely to take the direct route when asking for a raise, and were more likely to get it.
“While gender constraints are real, they are not inescapable,” the two researchers say. “We expect men to be in charge because they are, and we expect men to earn more because typically they do.… Every woman who reduces the gender gap in pay and authority reforms the social structures that keep women in their place.”
According to U.S. Census information, the median annual wage for men in 2011 was $48,202. Women earned $37,118, a difference of $11,084.
That calculates out to women earning $443,360 less than men over the course of a 40-year work life. The lower earnings also play into lower Social Security and retirement funds for women.
How you ask for a raise may only be one of the contributors to women earning less, but it’s obviously something that commands attention. Being more direct seems like a good move in this case.