(March 2020) – There’s been a lot of talk about how women earn at least 15% less than men for doing the same work. New research from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the Harvard Business School might shed some light on why.
It turns out women don’t promote themselves the way their male counterparts do. In the study “The Gender Gap in Self-Promotion,” researchers conducted several experiments and found that repeatedly, through several different sets of circumstances, women undervalued their own work. One experiment involved recruiting 1,500 workers to take a 20-question multiple-choice test. Both genders performed about the same, with the women actually slightly ahead in scoring, answering an average of 10 questions correctly compared with 9 for the men. Afterward, when asked to predict how their scores would come out, men generally answered higher and women typically answered lower.
Researchers said they still haven’t determined why women undervalue their work. “We are eager to see whether there are interventions or policies that can close the gender gap in self-promotion,” said Judd Kessler, a Wharton professor of business economics and public policy, who worked with Harvard business administration professor Christine Exley. “We would also love to better understand the underlying causes of the gap. If we have a better sense of what causes the gap, that may help us design solutions to mitigate it or — ideally — close it.”
In this month’s issue, we’ve profiled the Women’s Inspired Leadership Awards recipients for 2020, accomplished women in our community who were nominated for these honors. By shining a spotlight on them, maybe we can encourage other women to toot their own horns instead of being overly humble. Maybe we can help women feel more comfortable speaking up about what they’ve accomplished and what they deserve when they’re competing for jobs, promotions, higher pay, contracts, political office and other signs of professional advancement.
When Publisher Cherise Czaban and I and our partners, all of us women, first purchased the magazine from the men who owned it before, we decided not to make a big splash about it. That was almost two years ago, and to this day we still run into people who think the men hired us and are our supervisors. Should we have tooted our horns louder?
When I first started my company DiVerse Media 20 years ago, I enlisted a male colleague to help me handle the workload. He and I met with a potential client at my “downtown office,” the former Panera at Lake Eola, for an exploratory meeting about the project. When the potential client asked how much we would charge for our work, my colleague took the lead, blurting out a rate that was at least 20% higher than I would have quoted. I tried not to spit out my coffee in a gasp.
About that same time, another of my male colleagues was trying to get me to hire his wife to do some contract work. When he asked what I would pay her, I gave him an hourly figure. He said, “That’s too low,” and he quoted me a rate he determined her work was worth. I told him, “That’s more than my clients pay me!” And he said, “Well, then, you’re not charging enough.” Ouch.
I’ve learned a lot since those early days. But the reality is that my gender, as a whole, is still not speaking out about our worth as much as men in all kinds of workplaces all over the U.S. – even those where we are in charge of the money. What will it take for women to stop underplaying our accomplishments and step into gender equity? The researchers at Wharton and Harvard are on it. Stay tuned.
Have a great month!