They're Lucky to Have You!

Holly J. Culhane SPHR
February 29, 2008 — 2,035 views  
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It’s no surprise to anyone that there is a gender gap in the American workplace. It is well publicized that men continue to earn higher salaries (on an average basis) and often advance quicker than females, obtaining the “plum” jobs in corporations. However, it is also recognized that although the management styles may be different, women are just as intelligent, skilled, and educated as their male counterparts, and are often experts in communicating and understanding the needs of the organization. So – just what is the problem? Although this has been pondered for decades, a number of research-based, intensive studies have recently (and not so recently) investigated this phenomenon and some enlightening trends have surfaced. To no one’s surprise, the majority of the explanations stem from cultural expectations and socialization skills learned in childhood. To put it bluntly – women and men approach the workplace with different attitudes. (Can I get a big “DUH!”?) Seriously, women emerging from college and entering the workplace are more inclined to accept a beginning offer from a firm and feel “lucky” they were offered the job at all. Men, on the other hand, will go into a job interview prepared to negotiate for better pay, benefits, and/or working conditions. Because they appear to have a better sense of their own “self-worth,” this strategy pays off and therefore, men often begin their careers at an elevated salary compared to women doing the same work. This is really no one’s fault; it simply is a fact. The hiring company may be pleased that they saved money in hiring the female, but may also doubt the new employee’s skills as the interviewee didn’t bother to negotiate a better deal. They may actually (albeit subconsciously) wonder if that employee lacks confidence and is, therefore, less desirable for certain prominent positions. Furthermore, because the woman begins her career at a lower compensation, raises and advancements (which are often based on a percentage of the current salary) will continue to widen the wage gap over time. The biggest problem with this scenario – women simply fail to negotiate for themselves, preferring to accept given offers at face value and not realizing that instead of being “lucky” in getting hired, they actually have much to offer and it is, in fact, the company that is “lucky” to have them and their expertise. So, what can be done to “fix” this anomaly? Well, first let’s start off by saying that it is absolutely NOT in a woman’s best interest to act like a man. Face it – we are two very different animals and women who lose their femininity and imitate the males are generally not looked on favorably in the workplace. Instead, women need to develop their own style, remain feminine but professional, and toot their own horn. They need to be assertive, not aggressive, in the workplace and exude confidence in themselves and their abilities. When a man is hard-nosed and aggressive in business, he is admired. However, when a woman exhibits the same traits, the results will probably be less acceptable and she may be labeled with some very unkind phrases and words. Women are raised to be more nurturing and sympathetic – and to consider others, sometimes before their own needs. This is not necessarily a bad thing, even in the workplace. It also explains why many employees prefer working for women as they are more comfortable in an environment they perceive as being more empathetic. In fact, women make great negotiators for other people. They have no qualms going to bat for their employees and negotiating for those for whom they feel responsible. According to Maria Paine, Human Resources Director for Jim Burke Ford (based in California’s San Joaquin Valley), "They also go to bat for the customer.” She tells us Jim Burke Ford's vision statement includes the phrase "building lasting relationships through great customer service," a slogan coined by Ford's Informational Technology Director, Rose Charmley, along with the executive team. While all of this is appreciated and welcomed in the workplace, women do need to be more willing to speak up for themselves, as well. So, again – what is the solution to this problem? First of all, women need to recognize their own worth and learn to negotiate for themselves. However, they need to be friendly and demonstrate their competency rather than be hard or aggressive. Also, they need to research before-hand and find out comparable salaries in their particular field. Additionally, they may want to check to see which companies appear to be more “female-friendly” and investigate these organizations for employment. Furthermore, they need to prepare themselves by reading literature on the art of negotiations, taking classes, or attending workshops in order to present themselves in the best possible light. Most of all, remember your own value and convey confidence to prospective employers – and to the world! Remember, they’re lucky to have you as a member of their team.

Holly J. Culhane SPHR

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Identified the need for human resource and organizational assistance for small- and medium-sized business­es and formed Profes­sional Administra­tive Systems in 1987. Now known as P A S Associates, this firm combines specialists in the fields of human resources, labor and employment law, affirma­tive action, and substance abuse policies and education, providing an unsurpassed Human Resource Center.