A female friend of mine, a senior manager at a large organization and a prior senior officer in the military, suggested that I write an article for International Women's Day, which will take place on March 8 of this year.
I decided to rise to the challenge and write on an issue that has bothered me for many years: salary discrimination towards women. Why does it occur?
I apologize in advance for the generalizations in my article. My objective was to describe the phenomenon as I have seen it over the years, and I am, of course, aware that there are exceptions to the rule.
What would happen if women were to refuse to work for a low salary?
Twenty years ago, I managed a large factory for a major food concern, and around the year 2000, there arose a general fear of the problem coined the Y2K Bug (if you are not familiar with it and would like to read further, please go into Wikipedia with this link ). In short, I will state that up to then, due to problems with volume of memory storage, dates in a computerized system were stated in six figures, where the year comprised two figures (eg: 99 referred to 1999). With this in mind, the year 2000 would be written as 00, creating a problem when changing from 99 to 00, as 00 also represented 1900. It was necessary to change the entire world's computerization systems, and the resultant panic was considerable. Some believed it would signify the end of the world...
I sought an engineer to take on this task in the factory I managed, and due to budget constraints, I turned to young engineers at the end of their studies. Out of all of applicants, one truly impressed me – Dikla, a young, female engineer with tremendous skills; however, her salary demands were beyond the budget I was allocated and therefore I could not accept her.
As the millennium approached, the panic grew, and therefore our budget for the task also was increased. A few months later, I contacted Dikla again, but she had already progressed in her career at the Aviation Authorities and, afterwards, El Al, and her salary was now quite high, and again higher than the budget I had.
Years went by, and we remained in contact as Dikla married and became a mother. She continued to receive the salary she demanded, which was high. But her example is an exception: unfortunately, during all my ears in industry and business, I have met women who ask for a lower salary than they deserve, or are willing to make do with a salary that is lower than a man in the same position might receive.
I will now dare to make an unpopular statement, and move some of the responsibility for low salaries onto the shoulders of women themselves. The reason for this is that it takes two to tango. It isn't enough that the systems that are mostly controlled by men will offer less, but you also need someone who is willing to accept this lesser sum and make do.
Why do women ask for less in salary?
It is important to state that, in my opinion, women make excellent managers. For example, when I was looking for candidates for operations management at the companies I have managed, I often asked the position head hunters to give priority to women. In operations management, women hold many advantages over men, and this may be a generalization, but it is based on my many years of experience. I will add to this the fact that almost all the women I have worked with have been more efficient than men. They needed to leave work earlier than their male counterparts for their second job as homemakers, and therefore got everything done quicker. They never wasted time during the day and in general worked more methodically and efficiently.
If so, then why are most women willing to receive less in salary?
All I have are my hypotheses, and, again, I apologize for my generalizations.
- First, most women, I believe, look for a job close to home so they can be available to take care of the children, and are willing to compromise on their salary level in order to do so.
- Second, because of the responsibility they take upon themselves as homemakers, they look for stability and are less likely to move from job to job to improve their salaries.
This next rationale was added by a female friend with whom I consulted before publishing this article: convenience. Because women feel comfortable at their present jobs – i.e. everyone knows me, I can tell them my child is sick, we only work until 4 pm, etc. – this also decreases their bargaining power.
- Women undergo a socialization where they have a higher commitment to an organizational system and they have a lesser tendency to put their private needs first. Therefore, they bargain less and are less demanding regarding their salaries.
- This next rationale was also added by a female friend with whom I consulted before publishing this article: Since the beginning of time, women have tended to think like this: "first I have to gather definitive proof from the world around me and only then can I dare to demand equality in salaries". I believe (she said), that the source of this difference is deeply rooted in our culture and education from our early years. Society teaches girls from an early age that they are most charming when they are modest and gentle...and if they are very sure of themselves, this trait is considered unfeminine and unattractive. Women internalize this subconsciously from a young age, and therefore it is difficult for them to negotiate on their salaries and to present an approach of "I am really worth a lot".
These two examples are from very recent in time:
1. Shosh was in senior management in hi-tech and decided to become a freelancer. She specializes in a particular, focused niche that is much in demand, and in Israel there is none better than her in this field. She is the expert, and I learn from her as well. For a long time, I have asked her why she demands such a low salary for her knowledge, and she has always explained to me that the young companies with which she works cannot pay more.
Two weeks ago, a young man approached Shosh and asked to learn the profession from her. It turns out that he was already engaged in the profession and was getting much more from these same companies – almost three times more. "Well?" I asked her, "what do you deduce from that"? She again tried to explain to me why a man deserved a higher salary. But I, who am so familiar with this field, say to you, dear readers, that Shosh doesn't deserve less.
2. Mira is a sharp, young woman who already specializes in a certain niche and excels at it. I have collaborated with her at various opportunities and have been very impressed by her skills and advantages. Mira, too, explains to me why she only demands a low salary, and the examples I present on the salary levels accepted in this field do not help.
I have presented you with my insights from 27 years in industry and business.
It's no secret that there is salary discrimination towards women.
If the only reason for this were that the business world is controlled by men, then the trend should have started to change by now.
I have not seen many signs of it and I think that in order for it to happen, women have to dare to demand more for themselves.
I have consulted with others...
In this incidence, I sent this article to four women before publishing it, and I have integrated their comments in the final version.
Among other things, I received the following link to research conducted at the University of Texas (recommended reading):