The Money Changer and His Wife, Marinus Claesz van Reymerswaele, 1539 (Courtesy: Prado Museum, Madrid)
Ideas for Leaders #628

Women Do Ask For Raises — But Don’t Get Them

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Key Concept

A new study debunks two claims — that women are afraid to ask for raises and that this reticence is based on a fear of disrupting workplace relationships — which have been used to blame women, in part, for the gender disparity in pay. Women do ask for raises, but are more likely to be refused than men. 

Idea Summary

Across the industrialized world, female workers earn less than men. In previous research and books on the subject, two widely accepted claims emerge that, it is believed, help explain the discrepancy:

  • Claim 1) Women are less likely to ask for raises than men.
  • Claim 2) The reason they don’t ask as much as men is because they are concerned with hurting their workplace relationships with their superiors.

In a recent study, an Anglo-American team of researchers explored the validity of these two claims using extensive survey data that more effectively examines the root causes of gender discrimination in the workplace than past research.

The advantage of the current research is in its data. Much of the previous research on this issue uses objective data, such as statistics on salaries, to not only highlight the pay differences between genders, but also to infer the reasons for these differences, including the claims cited above.

The new study is based on extensive surveys of Australian workers. The Australian Workplace Relations Survey (AWRS) digs deep in the motivations and mindset of Australian employees, both men and women. For the purposes of this study, the AWRS is especially valuable because it includes a number of questions related to the issue of pay negotiations, including:

  • Whether there is a process for negotiating pay at the workplace
  • Whether the respondent has successfully negotiated a wage increase
  • Whether the respondent has even attempted to negotiate a wage increase
  • If not, whether the respondent did not attempt to negotiate an increase out of fear of negative effects on their relationship with their manager or employer

The researchers used a sample of 4600 workers — a little more than half of them women — drawn from 840 Australian workplaces. The study covers the years 2013-2014.

An analysis of the data showed that, statistically, women were just as likely to ask for pay increases as men, thus disproving the claim that gender differences in pay are related to female reticence. However, further analysis also reveals that women are 25% less likely to receive a raise when they do ask.

One important variable revealed by the analysis is the impact of working shorter hours: both men and women who worked shorter hours were less likely to ask for a pay increase. Since more women work shorter hours, it’s possible that this variable led in past research to the false correlation between women and reticence — when in fact the correlation is between shorter hours and reticence.

The survey data also does not support the contention that women are concerned about negative consequences to their relationships with their employers if they ask for a raise. 

Business Application

Based on the results of this study, assumptions that women are partly to blame for gender differences in pay are false. In blunt terms, women do ask — but they do not get. Gender differences in pay remains, and this study only reinforces the sad conclusion that the source of those differences is sexual discrimination.

There is one cause for hope that emerges from the study: women under the age of 40 seem to be as successful as men in negotiating pay increases. It appears that overall negotiation behaviour has begun to change, although why that change is occurring is not revealed by the data.

In general terms, wage discrimination against women continues, and this study points the fingers at employers. Companies recognized today that the company benefits from employees engagement — and that engagement is built on issues such as personal and professional development and attention to work-life issues. In this context, employers who continue to discriminate against women are undermining their own long-term success — in a misguided bid to save a few dollars in the short term.

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Idea conceived

  • July 2016

Idea posted

  • October 2016

DOI number



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