Fast Track: Speak up, cash in

Keeping salary levels a secret puts female graduates at a disadvantage
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The Independent Culture
Talking salaries, it seems, is one of the last social taboos. It's simply not the done thing to ask someone what they're on unless you share a house or better still, a bedroom. Even in job interviews, potential recruits squirm in their seats at the very thought of bring-ing up the money factor. The result for those about to embark upon their careers? Employers remain able to get away with paying female graduates significantly less than their male counterparts.

In fact, Universum's latest UK graduate survey has revealed that this veil of secrecy surrounding pay-packets has even wider repercussions for women. After all, because today's female graduates get paid less than men, they have grown to expect - and therefore demand - less than men. The survey found the average woman anticipates earning pounds 200 a month less than her male peers in her first job and a staggering pounds 400 a month less, five years later.

What's more, the problem doesn't improve as women grow in confidence and experience. The Industrial Society reports that despite 25 years of equal pay legislation, women at all levels expect to be - and are - paid an average 20 per cent less than men. "In fact, it gets worse as she gets older," says campaign manager, Debra Allcock. "In her early 20s a woman earns about 91 per cent of a man's pay. In her 30s, 87 per cent, in her 40s, 75 per cent and in her 50s, 72 per cent."

Perhaps women's goals are lower simply because they are being realistic about the prevailing patriarchal society, she concludes. "Why bother to raise your expectations only to have them crushed?" Indeed, the Government has indicated that it will avoid extending current legislation - despite reports that, while admissions procedures to a profession appear to be relatively equal, women tend to be in the lower ranks of the hierarchy.

Using accountancy as an example, the report reveals that at both Arthur Andersen and the pre-merger Coopers & Lybrand, women account for 44 per cent of students but only 7 per cent of partners. Primrose McCabe, a former president of the Scottish Institute of Chartered Accountants confesses, "Women look at the rat race and don't join in because they don't see the point". Another part of the problem lies with the way women value themselves in the work-place," adds Allcock. "Women in all organisations are more likely to measure themselves on what they cannot do rather than what they can do. They are more likely to take on board negative feedback than positive and are more likely to think that they are less deserving - not necessarily of men but of any other employee."

Dr Marilyn Davidson, professor of managerial psychology at Umist - one of the largest management schools in the country - adds, "On the whole, women tend not to be as preoccupied with salary and status as men. Rather, it seems that they are more concerned with job satisfaction and receiving non-financial perks."

Dr Jane Sturges, research fellow at London University's Birkbeck College - who has done research on incentives in the workplace - has recently discovered that there are a growing number of women prioritising family- friendly hours and ongoing training over company cars or pay increases.

Roger Gelmanovski, managing director of Universum in the UK, explains, "Although our survey shows that balancing personal life and career is the number one career goal for all students to attain within three years after graduation, it was prioritised by 59 per cent of women versus 47 per cent of men".

Nevertheless, salary doesn't affect women merely on an individual level. They also suffer on a collective level because the professions which are dominated by females - such as nursing and teaching - are lower paid than male-dominated professions, like banking.

Dr Marilyn Davidson, author of The Black and Ethnic Minority Woman Manager: Cracking the Concrete Ceiling (Sage), surveys undergraduates on an annual basis. "People in women-led areas such as personnel, sales, PR and marketing are almost always paid less than in male-led manufacturing-type jobs and sadly, it's something many women seem to take for granted or feel they can do nothing about."

Dr Davidson adds that irrespective of the profession, discrimination prevails by women not being put forward for promotion as quickly as men and by them being given "special" job titles that keep them lower in the hierarchy. "We also know that the higher you reach in any organisation, the less likely it is that posts will be advertised. Instead, people are `invited' to apply. It's a way of ensuring salaries are kept secret and not uncommonly, the women unknowingly wind up getting less than the men."

So is there anything female graduates can do to help themselves? Absolutely, insists Davidson. "Research shows that women are bad negotiators. We are not brought up to push for what we want but rather, to be `nice'.

"So my advice is to be aware of this and to work at fighting your corner as much as any man would. And this includes the need to ensure you're getting the same amount of training, that you're being introduced to the same sorts of networks and that you get equal opportunities to have access to a mentor.

"If you feel you're missing out, don't be afraid to approach your manager. Nevertheless, if nothing changes, don't hang around and hope that your talents will eventually be recognised. Talk to any high-flying woman and she'll tell you the same. Stay on the move until you do get noticed."

Nevertheless, cautions Debra Allcock, don't assume you're being discriminated against without checking the facts. It could be you haven't asked for additional training, mentors or a pay rise before.

For job-seeking graduates, says Allcock, it is advisable to set yourself a target figure for what you want to be paid - and be prepared to voice it during an interview. "Check this figure out against what other people are paid - particularly men - for the same job. It can help to look in the job pages at what similar jobs are advertised at. If, once you are in the organisation, you feel you're not being paid as much as men, ask your personnel department to provide you with a scatter diagram showing the spread of pay identified by sex so that you can see where you are."

Always prepare any case you want to fight, she adds, remembering to focus on your achievements and value rather than feelings of self-worth. "It's often a good idea to have the key points written down."

Finally, she says, "Believe that you are worth it. If you don't really believe you are, why should others?"