Why women lose out to men over pay rises

Asking your boss for a salary increase can make you seem aggressive and unlikeable, researchers find. Unless you're a man
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The Independent Online

Women are more likely than men to be turned down for pay rises because their demands for a salary increase are judged too aggressive and "unfeminine" by their bosses, according to new research.

Women are more likely than men to be turned down for pay rises because their demands for a salary increase are judged too aggressive and "unfeminine" by their bosses, according to new research.

A study carried out into people's attitudes towards pay at work concludes this "backlash syndrome" against ambitious women is an important factor in the pay inequalities that still persist between men and women.

The research author, Professor Linda Babcock, says men are rewarded for their assertiveness and women penalised by a society which still adheres to outdated stereotypes. "Men can get away with asking for pay rises whereas women can't," said Ms Babcock, professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania.

Equal pay for women has become one of the most contentious issues in the modern workplace and has led to a string of sex discrimination cases especially by high-flying women in the city.

Stephanie Villalba, a former Merrill Lynch executive, lost the substantive part of a £7.5m sex discrimination claim, although her two bosses and a personnel officer were found to have lied on oath. She last week launched an attempt to win back almost £600,000 in costs from the bank.

Female employees still earn a fifth less than men, a gap which has prompted ministers to set up an inquiry to investigate the reasons behind it.

An earlier report by Professor Babcock found that women lose out on an estimated £300,000 in potential earnings during their careers because they often hold back from asking for more pay.

But she now says that her latest findings show there may be good reason for this prudence. These are based on interviews with more than 200 male and female interns who were asked to rate different video clips of a woman. In one, she is shown making it clear that she wants to be at the top of the salary range. In the second, she does not make any reference to pay or her desire for more money.

They were then shown clips of a man making the same demands. The scores awarded to the man and to the woman differed dramatically. His average score was five out of a total of seven points regardless of whether or not he asked for a pay rise.

However, the woman was only given four points when asking for more money and was judged not very "likeable".

Last year, Tony Blair set up the Women and Work Commission to investigate some of the reasons behind pay disparities. It is expected to publish its findings this autumn.

Baroness Margaret Prosser, the commission's chair, said there should be a system in place that guarantees equal pay. "Generally speaking, women are much more reluctant to push their own agenda," she said.

"Most men tend to be a bit more assertive. People shouldn't have to ask for pay rises. There should be a proper regulated system."

Caroline Slocock, chief executive of the Equal Opportunities Commission, said Professor Babcock's study shows that women are still being judged far more harshly than men when asking for a pay rise.

"The average pay gap between men and women is woeful, and it may be that fear of a negative reaction is putting women off from raising pay issues," she said.

"It is disappointing that women are still judged more harshly for exercising their right to ask for more pay."

Additional reporting by Steve Bloomfield

'I was told there was no more money left'

When Adeline Iziren came back from holiday, she was disappointed to find that three of her male colleagues at the publishing house where she worked had got together and negotiated themselves a large pay rise in her absence.

But when she asked for an increase, she was turned down flat. Ms Iziren, 37, said: "I was told there was no more money left, even though I was more experienced. I was shocked the guys had gone ahead without me. Women in general don't ask for pay rises and I don't think they were pleased that I asserted myself. I ended up leaving."

'Men don't like high flyers'

Anna Kavanagh, 38, from Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, was paid substantially less than male colleagues at her law firm, but her request for a rise was turned down. She settled out of court for 18 months' worth of earnings, and now has her own careers consultancy, Time 4 Balance. "I worked as a corporate lawyer and was expected to be a tough negotiator. But when it came to being hard-nosed over my own pay, they didn't appreciate it. Men are given more responsible jobs - and the pay to go with it, even though it's not always justified. They feel fundamentally threatened by high-flying women."