Women earn less than men. It’s hard to determine why, when in many instances men and women are equally educated, have the same experience and perform exactly the same roles. Yet the data proves it to be true and the disparity is not being fixed in a hurry.

The gendered salary disparity doesn’t discriminate against industry and is noted to also effect women in the glittery hills of Hollywood. Jennifer Lawrence, one actress who earned less than male co-stars, said she blames herself.

“When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with d**ks, I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early.” Lawrence also blamed a need to be liked, or a fear of seeming “difficult” or “spoilt”, and vowed to toughen up1.

In relation to digital, a UK recruitment agency found that women working within digital in Britain earn 9% less than their male counterparts2.  In Australia women in digital earn 15% less than their male colleagues3.

There are consistent themes contributing to why some of the salary disparity exists. From a lack of willingness to negotiate, the need to be liked and having a sense of gratitude appear to be contributing factors to the lack of equal pay.

However, for women to improve their salaries it’s not quite as simple as just being better at negotiation or having a sense of self worth.  Some studies have indicated that some women, in certain circumstances, emulate men to increase their chances.

Anne Pickering, O2’s UK human resources director, says that while businesses today have come a long way from the office of Mad Men, the reality is that many modern women are still feeling the pressure to behave like men to get ahead.

“Having a truly diverse workforce – one in which all employees are encouraged to act and behave as themselves – is not just about what is proper and fair, it also makes complete business sense,” Pickering said.

The benefit to having a diverse workforce is having a variety of approaches, methodologies and opinions. If women feel that the only way to get ahead is to behave like a man, or for men to think a woman can only contribute when she behaves like a man, this diversity of thought is significantly diminished.

Interestingly, the data indicates that behaving like a man doesn’t benefit women, suggesting there is discrimination in compensation happening during recruitment and hiring, based solely on gender and not behaviour4. This is not all there is to it, of course, it’s just one of the many layers in explaining why the pay discrepancy exists.

Women are socialised not to be aggressive and to care for the needs of others. Women are told not to rock the boat, perhaps not expressly, but in subtle ways throughout their lives. As such, there are social costs to being assertive, otherwise known as being aggressive, pushy or perhaps even worse adjectives5.

Therefore, women can engage in salary negotiations, but it’s not socially favourable to do so. Studies have shown that women who negotiate for a salary often end up paying a higher social cost than men. In essence, colleagues do not want to work with a woman who has negotiated a better salary. The social cost is less, if insignificant, for men6. As a result, it appears that women are less inclined to negotiate a higher salary because they are picking up on the environmental cues and don’t wish to be ostracised6.

Additionally, further studies indicate that women have less experience in negotiating. In fact, the studies show that men place themselves in negotiation-style situations more often than women, and regard more of their interactions as potential negotiations7, so in addition to a lack of social pushback for negotiating, men also have more practice in honing their skills.

Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, used a great argument in her negotiations with Facebook. “Of course you realise that you’re hiring me to run your deal team so you want me to be a good negotiator,” Sandberg said8.

Sandberg wanted Facebook to see her negotiating as legitimate because, if she didn’t negotiate, they should be worried about whether they’d made the right hire.

So there’s a way to negotiate in a favourable way. Psychologists suggest there are two types of negotiation styles – the Simple and the Relational Style8. Reports indicate that Simple styles will work best for men, while Relational will work better for women. Again there is gender biased discrimination here – women and men aren’t allowed to negotiate in the same way –  but until equality pervades all areas of our lives, this is useful guidance.

This Relational Style is about the I-we strategy, where women can ask for what they want, but put it in the context of benefits to the organisation. The negotiator need to send signals to the negotiating counterpart that organisational relationships will be cared for and point out that this is the only time that they will sit at opposite sides of the table.

While women have to again chose their words selectively to avoid negative impact and engender positive outcomes, this is an approach that might help in closing the salary gap. If it has no effect, with no rational reason, then perhaps consider why you’re spending time within the organisation and start planning what you want for your future.

Six tips to negotiating better salary.

  1. Organise a time with your boss to have a discussion – perhaps a month before salary review season starts so your manager has time to consider your proposal and take it to others in the organisation, as necessary, so as to negotiate on your behalf and gain approvals.
  1. Investigate what others in similar roles across relatable companies in your city are earning. Use Seek as well as recruitment agency salary surveys to build your evidence and bring these to your meeting.
  1. Organise your story. Use the Relational Style when planning what you want to say. Why is what you bring to the team unique and how does it bring value to the team, division and business? Think about this is terms of both what you have delivered and how you delivered it.  Outcomes are important, but so is the right attitude and approach.
  1. Use examples of great performance and the positive impact on business outcomes. However do not do this at the expense of anyone else.
  1. Be confident and try not to be nervous. Practice the “super woman pose” prior to your meeting and take some deep breaths. Be clear in your mind what you want to say and the minimum outcomes you will find acceptable.
  1. No matter the outcome, congratulate yourself for being proactive about your salary, career and doing your part in closing the salary gap.

 By Michelle Tucker 


  1. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/29/hollywood-equal-pay-women-change-yet-to-come
  2. http://www.onrec.com/news/news-archive/malefemale-digital-salary-gap-exposed-at-9
  3. http://mumbrella.com.au/digital-marketing-industry-leads-nation-in-reliance-on-fly-in-talent-aimia-survey-reveals-350268
  4. http://www.nber.org/papers/w21913
  5. http://www.forbes.com/sites/deniserestauri/2015/12/09/why-women-need-to-stop-worrying-about-being-liked/#41f42dd2689a
  6. https://hbr.org/2014/06/why-women-dont-negotiate-their-job-offers/
  7. https://hbr.org/2003/10/nice-girls-dont-ask/
  8. http://gap.hks.harvard.edu/how-can-women-escape-compensation-negotiation-dilemma-relational-accounts-are-one-answer