The Gender Pay Gap: Nice Women Earn Less Money

By Roberta Attanasio, Forever Leaders Editor

Did you hear about the 20 percent gender gap? In 2015, women working full time in the United States were paid—on average—only 80 percent of what men were paid. The gender pay gap is real, and there are good and bad news about it. The good news is that, in the last hundred years, the gap has narrowed markedly. The bad news is that the gap is still substantial, it’s even worse for women of color, and it doesn’t seem likely to go away on its own. The Fall 2016 edition of “The simple truth about the gender pay gap” points out not only that the gap of 20 cents on the dollar between men and women working full time, year-round, is a statistical fact, but also that the pay gap itself is more complicated than a single number—it summarizes a huge diversity of women and life circumstances. Indeed, multiple causes are responsible for the pay gap. For example, are women paid less because they choose lower-paying jobs? Or is it because women have more caregiving responsibilities? And… what about gender bias?

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Image credit: Biswajit Das, CC BY 2.0

More and more research is being carried out around the world to identify the various causes of the gender pay gap. Here are results from one of the most recent studies: The nicer, or more agreeable, a woman is at work, the lower her salary is likely to be.

The study (All employees are equal, but some are more equal than others: dominance, agreeableness, and status inconsistency among men and women) was published in the journal European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology. Researchers surveyed 375 men and women from different departments at a large multinational electronics company based in the Netherlands. For the study, researchers used both objective and subjective criteria. For objective data, they analyzed tenure, education, and performance data relative to income and promotion statistics. For subjective data, they examined how the individual perceived the fit between their education, experience, and performance on one hand, and their income and rank on the other. The researchers analyzed data taking into account traditional male and female characteristics.

The researchers found that dominant, assertive women who clearly express their expectations and do not retreat from their demands, are compensated better than their more accommodating female peers. Similar results were observed when dominant men were compared to more conciliatory males. However, even dominant women earn far less than all of their male colleagues, dominant or otherwise. In addition, the researchers found that women invest more of themselves in their jobs than they receive.

Sharon Toker, senior author of the study, said in a press release: “We have witnessed dramatic changes in the definition of traditionally male and female qualities over the past several decades. But some people still really cling to the idea that some qualities are exclusively male and exclusively female. Some professional women are still afraid to exhibit a trait that’s incongruent with presumed notions of female character.”

Michal Biron, first author of the study, added: “We found that women aren’t aware that more agreeable women are being punished for being nice. The nice women we polled in our study even believed they were earning more than they deserved.” Such belief makes nice women less likely to make appropriate demands for equal pay.

In their paper, the researchers point out that their results should not be generalized yet, as the study was conducted among a sample of individuals employed in only one electronics firm in the Netherlands—using similar criteria, further studies should test workers employed in other industries and countries.

 

Copyright © 2016-2018 Forever Leaders.

28 comments

  1. To be honest, it’s sad that none of this surprises me. I read it in a “…of course” fashion. Of course we live in a society that punishes kind women, of course kind women earn more, and of course women “invest more in their jobs than they receive.” Agreeability/ Niceness are generally seen as a feminine trait. In the past few years, I’ve come to realize this anti-feminine attitude that society has. It’s in things like taxing products for “girls” at a higher price and taxing hygiene products even higher. If a boy and a girl get the same toy, but one toy is pink, the pink toy will most likely cost more because of its feminine linkage. So yes, of course, but that doesn’t make it any less sad.

    • Honestly, I was not surprised either. Women are expected to be caring and nurturing. They are also expected to look out for others, and not for themselves because that would be selfish. What women and men need to understand is that it is OK to be selfish sometimes. It’s OK to want more for yourself and to demand what you think you are at worth. Being nice and sweet makes you friends but, it can’t hold you back from success.

      I also believe that this double standard must end. The attitude that woman must be selfless and nice is anti-femme. When we stand up and demand equality and that we get paid what we are worth, we are marked as hateful and labeled a capital B word. Social expectations need to be dropped; this would allow room for women to be themselves, rather nice or not, so that they can choose for themselves how their life path unwinds.

  2. This information make me feel… incredibly frustrated. The way young women are raised in society – it’s like they set them up to fail. Society raises women to always be second to a man. Little girls are brought up in society to be of service to the masses – to never say “No,” to avoid any/all rude behavior, to always be selfless and not selfish. However, on the other hand, little boys are constantly brainwashed to be demanding, they are repetitively force-fed the lines of: “You have to be strong. Don’t cry. Be tough.”

    Boys must be hard. Girls must be soft – or in this case, “nice.” Because they were indoctrinated to behave this way, this is how they inevitably turn out to be in adulthood. And then… they hear facts like this: “The nicer a woman is at work, the lower her salary is likely to be.” And yet, wasn’t this what society wanted in the first place? A “nice” little princess? A “nice” young girl? A “nice” woman? And now, women are penalized for behaving the way they were expected to since birth! Society raised women to be who they are, and now that same society is punishing them… for becoming what it expected them to be.

    • I agree with you, Carmen. The scenario is all too familiar. Society molds young women to be nice/soft and then in the same scope scold them for not fighting for more equality. This reminds me of our talk with Kiki Roeder about women in the workplace being too nice which causes them to lose respect and a plethora of other things or being “too strict” which causes them to lose support. The set up of the system makes it difficult to have hope that the gender inequality in pay, positions, and successes will ever be filled.

    • Took the words right out of my mouth! This also brings the question of school performance. Statistically, we know that women are in colleges and universities and graduating colleges and universities at higher rates than men. We also know that women are often considered better students than men. That little girls tend to be considered the “model” student. This is because of that same indoctrination that you mentioned. This indoctrination creates a vicious cycle. This affects young boys too! Young boys who grow up and continue to perpetuate the problem. I try to tell my little brother that it’s okay to cry. Because we’ve created a society where they feel repressed in terms of emotions and that isn’t good for anyone. And the same society that does this to our boys is the same society that tells women to be emotional and then punishes them for it. It’s beginning to seem like we’re all masochists, huh?

    • That is exactly what I was just thinking! I was raised to be quiet, agreeable, accommodating, and to never EVER be an inconvenience. Therefore I was always described by teachers and family as such a “good little girl.” I remember holding so much pride for this when I was younger. But really, being a “good little girl” just meant that they could put me in a corner and not have to worry about me (which apparently is what is happening to agreeable women.) Unfortunately, I carried this with me as I got older. Never speaking up when wronged, never asking for anything I wanted, and always doing what was expected of me. So now I have to unlearn 20 something years of imposed grooming to be treated equally? What a bust!

    • Kathryn, I completely agree! I think your personal experiences of being a girl pretty much sums up my thoughts entirely! They teach us to be subservient and amicable so that it is easier to control and empower us. Tricky society… Little do they know, there are a few revolutionary minds in our generation – heck, even in our Women Lead class! Instead of being subservient to the societal rules that have chained us for eons, we will be subversive to them – disobey them. But it will be difficult because – like you mentioned – we have to unlearn the self-damaging things that we were raised upon.

      Samarah, I have seen the cycle time and time again. It makes me feel jaded to be quite honest. You can’t change everyone but you can change yourself and the people closest to you. It starts with us, or so the cliche goes. And it saddening to talk to young children today and to hear 4 or 5-year old little boys ALREADY being brainwashed into saying things like: “I’m a boy, I can’t cry.” Yes, you can. It is okay for a boy to be open-hearted. They can cry and be incredibly sensitive. Try as hard as you can to combat the brainwashing that’s probably already happening to your little brother, just like it happened to all of us.

    • Another thing I remember from Kiki’s talk is her advice not to compromise who you are and what you want for being well-liked. Women are trained to believe that being liked is basically the most important thing in life, and that our worth depends on how well-liked we are. I think this is what holds women back the most – we end up thinking that our sense of self is dependent on positive feedback from others. We’re so worried about people getting angry or upset with us that we resist asking for things. The problem with women who are too nice is that they think everything they’ve earned is a gift. The “nice” women in this study were happy with the amount of money they made. They’re probably worried that seeming demanding will put their job at risk; in reality, the worst case scenario is probably just that they’ll get a “no.” The higher-paid women are willing to ask for more money because they believe that they deserve more, and they’re not as afraid of being considered mean or difficult. As women, we need to place less value in being nice, and more value in ourselves.

  3. I’m glad studies like this are being conducted! It is wonderful to see that the traits and pay scales of women and men are being evaluated. I think information is the first step towards closing the gap in any sort of inequality. Now, as for women being nice and receiving less than they could potentially earn, is it surprising? Women are constantly taught to be nice and accommodating, making people feel comfortable, apologizing just to keep the peace, all those sorts of hospitable things. Why should we not also apologize to the wage system as if it were a person? It seems like often when we go places, we begin with a “Sorry, how can I help you?” “Is it easier for you to pay me less? Does that work best for you?”
    I think nice isn’t exactly the issue here. I think women can be nice and assertive. Men can also be nice and assertive. In fact, these are usually the successful men, because they know that being nice can help them get somewhere, so long as they can hold the same respect. Accommodating is a trait which should be questioned in itself as to whether it is out of kindness or expectation.
    I hope there will be more studies performed such as this one, so the wage gap can be clearly identified and backed with data. It is still permitted because individual companies permit it, without doing such analysis of their employees pay rates. Once they see the discrepancies, I believe that either the companies or the government will implement changes within the next decade. Also, I believe women should be taught what it means to be assertive and stick up for themselves, while still being kind.

    • I agree with you, Christina. I appreciate that you pointed out that being kind is not really the issue, its a lack of being assertive. We should be careful in how we address this issue, so that we are not discouraging kindness and accommodation from women or men, but that we are encouraging and teaching men and women effective ways to be confident and assertive. It would also be helpful to train executives to value kindness and accommodation more, because it can be essential for the overall betterment of the workplace.

  4. I think that there should definitely be more studies like this so that we can have more statistical evidence of the gender gap and the specifics behind it. The concern I have, and that I would like to see studied on a deeper level would be kindness and accommodation in the workplace and its essentiality and value. I think it can be dangerous to degrade accommodation in the workplace. Accommodation can be essential to being productive, efficient, and working well with others. In my opinion a great leader is someone that can take opposition and find a way to accommodate both. I think there should be a greater focus on how to develop confidence and assertiveness, in terms of when it’s essential to hold your stance and when its more appropriate and needed to accommodate others. We can end up handicapping ourselves if we limit our ideas of leadership to one or two traits. We should pay attention to characteristics and actions that bring efficiency to a group or project and add them to the idea of leadership instead of discounting them as female traits.

    • You would think accommodation would be an essential leadership quality and I am sure men are commended for it all of the time. Unfortunately, when a woman is accommodating she is seen as a doormat. It just gets lumped right in with all of the other characteristics that are acceptable for men to have and not women. And that is not to say that there are characteristics that are not acceptable for men to have, but I am sure they do not affect their pay! The only thing that is going to cure this double standard is getting more women into executive positions to prove that these “feminine” qualities do not communicate weakness but instead promote efficiency!

  5. I think this study just reinforces what we already know. Women are punished for what society expects them to be. I feel this a major theme for us as women, we are working to change what society has asked us to do, but we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Women are expected to be nice and sweet. As children, girls are told to be nice and boys are told to be strong. These ideas continue into our adulthood and women are reprimanded for being nice in the workplace.

    In today’s society, it is important to recognize diversity. No two people are the same and everyone brings something different to the table. By continuing to have a gender pay gap, society is continuing to tell women they are still not good enough, it is important to recognize the work that has already been done. There is a long way to go for us women to achieve equal pay, studies like the one discussed in the article acknowledge that there is a problem and bring it to light to more people so we can one day truly have a equality in the work place.

  6. Another class that I am taking perfectly ties into this. In sociology, we are learning about the cost of being a woman, and how “pink-collar” jobs are typically undervalued. When you control for all factors that can influence the outcome of a pay gap, such as race, age, and level of education, it has been found that the cost of being a woman is 7%. This means on average women are paid and undervalued 7% compared to their male counterparts. Take for example the US women’s soccer team. They are going through a legal battle right now about the unequal pay they receive in comparison to the men’s soccer team. The women’s soccer team has a lot more prestige, winning numerous world cups and Olympic medals. The men’s team does not even compare. As shown in the article “How Much Less Are Female Soccer Players Paid?” (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/03/31/sports/soccer/us-women-soccer-wage.html), it is proven how women are constantly devalued in the workforce compared to men, even when they do a better job than the men they are compensated less. Another reason for such a large wage gap is occupational sex segregation. Jobs that are more geared towards women tend to earn less than jobs geared toward men, even if they are practically the same job, just a different job title (example: woman job would be head secretary, but male job would be entry level administrator; man is paid more but doing the same job as the woman). There is also not only a glass ceiling for women but also a glass escalator for men. When a man enters a female-dominated job, they are automatically afforded high opportunities just for being “brave” enough or “caring” enough to enter a female field. For example, a man who is a teacher can easily become the principal sooner than a woman is offered, or a male nurse is easily promoted to head nurse because of being thought of as “smarter” and more “doctor-material”. Men are set on the fast-track to excellence, while women continually lag behind in both pay and opportunities.

    • I totally agree women are punished for what they are conditioned to live by, but when men do the same, they are praised for acting like a man while women are supposed to act like a lady. Our work is looked at as our obligation and nothing more while men are rewarded for being what society conditioned them to be, and women do not have the same right or the same value as a man because of patriarchal views of what a leader should look like within the workplace. Pink collar jobs are the only jobs that were opened to women. Also, when we decide to make a pink collar job a career, it is valued less than a white collar job because that is what women are supposed to do. Furthermore, there is an issue between whether or not women should get paid for jobs that are their responsibility. It’s a women’s moral duty to take care of others so she shouldn’t be paid for something that is her responsibility as a woman. Service jobs such as babysitting, daycares, and nursing homes require a lot of work, but women aren’t rewarded for that work because raising kids and taking care of the elderly is a 24/7 job that women don’t have the option not to do without breaking social norms. But, it comes down to what is more valued in our society and who is valued.

    • Morgan,

      Well said. I love how you mentioned this is a system wide problem. The glass ceiling for women and the glass escalator is everywhere in every profession, from working in a Mcdonalds to being a teacher, to being a surgeon. My question is, have we made any cracks at least within the past 30 years? Can we see the sun cracking through? Hillary Clinton stated, “Although we were not able to shatter that highest and hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you it has 18 million cracks in it, and the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time, and we are going to keep working to make it so, today keep with me and stand for me, we still have so much to do together, we made history, and lets make some more.” Is this a fair statement? I think so. I hate to sound like a jolly elf but its time we change our perspectives and become more optimistic about our situations. We look at the glass ceiling like it’s still strong, and it is, but we do not think to say it is only half as strong. It’s getting weaker and it’s our doing. Let’s appreciate and talk about the progress, evaluate how it has occurred, and find what we need to do to continue to move forward. I don’t believe you are outwardly saying, “Woe is me,” but it is definitely an undercurrent that I feel in a lot of our conversations. Keep moving forward.

  7. This is another example of how strong double standards are against women. It seems like we can never win. Be nice and make less than you’re worth, or be a “ballbuster” that may seem intimidating to others, but earn what you deserve. It’s so frustrating to know that these are our 2 main options. Women tend to be more caring and empathetic, and that shouldn’t be discriminated against. Kindness and empathy should be character traits that we demand in a leader, regardless of gender. How are you going to foster a healthy, cooperative environment if you feel you can’t be nice to your employees. Kindness isn’t something to be taken advantage of. It’s something that should be revered and expected from your coworkers and superiors. Kindness isn’t a sign of weakness, although in the business world, it is still construed as such. This is when we, as women, need to rally around each other and support each other to rise up to our challenges. Women are just as guilty as men for stereotyping women, and until we can 100% support each other and truly encourage success or all women, regardless of temperament or attitude, men will continue to marginalize us. We also have to let our own self-doubt stop hindering us from reaching our full potential.

    • I agree 105% with you. Double standards have been engraved in society for years, but it does not stop at genders. Double standards can be found in religious practices, ethnic groups, etc. One of the first things that I was taught was to fight back. In my home, my parents told me stand up for myself against others. However, at school, when it came down to fighting back I was reprimanded for doing so. As a child, this sent a terrible message that society wants us to just lay down and let people walk all over us. And honestly, that is what has been happening for years on end. We stuck to the status quo and did not say anything that would disrupt the so called “peace”. But in order for there to be equality, we have to speak up. I believe that men and women have the same qualities/characteristics. Men can be pushovers and women can be strict without it being “that time of the month”. So, I think we need to push others to accept that women and men can be characterized the same way. In other words, anything a woman can do a man can do too and vice versa.

    • Agreed. I had a similar response to this post:
      I do believe the notion of women who are “nice” not getting paid as much in the work force is a gender issue. While reading this post, I realized that being “nice” is not the issue. It is the definition of nice that is fed to people that is the problem. For women, being nice entails being submissive and agreeable. When a woman is not “nice” people’s brains automatically categorize her in the opposite category: mean or disagreeable. Note that the word dominant is not used in this description of mean because the word is generally used to describe an admirable quality in men. Telling women that being nice needs to be integrated into their personality is detrimental to their development. It is impossible to be agreeable at all times, though keeping quiet can give this illusion. The notion of being nice is a hindrance for women because it encourages us to be quiet. In today’s work force being agreeable does not get you promotions. Having critical thinking skills and the ability to express your own thoughts and ideas is what makes an employee, male or female, stand out. Women have been taught from the beginning of their lives that they need to be nice or else they won’t have any friends or partners. What many women must realize now is that being nice can be a part of your personality, but there is so much more than that. The emotions and attributes that tell you to speak up or defend yourself are just as important as being nice. There is a time to be nice and a time to speak for yourself.

  8. This post reminds me of the saying, “it’s lonely at the top.” I believe taking on, specifically, a high power or leadership position means making tough decisions, being assertive and accepting that not everyone is going to like you. Don’t get me wrong, though, I also value kindness. However, in a workplace, if kindness comes at the expensive of speaking up to provide a colleague with constructive criticism then I think kindness starts to become a weakness. Empathy is another trait that I value, but again, if empathy means being unable to disconnect from others’ emotions and situations then I can see how this can quickly become a hindrance in the workplace. Though, here I am speaking universally, I think women will have to gauge the culture of their workplace and determine what is valued and learn how to play that game if they want to move up in rank and fight the pay gap.
    Many of the above comments discuss gender differences in social norms, and how this leads to differential treatment of women in the workplace. I just want to add to this discussion, because I believe I have a different perspective. I think to at least, some extent, we have to let go of whatever “society says” about us as women. People will always say whatever they want and have an opinion about how we should act or live our lives but I believe if we are comfortable with ourselves then we won’t get caught up in the back and forth, and will have more energy left to “lean in” into our educations and careers. Moreover, I think that knowing our worth comes with truly being comfortable with ourselves, and with that we won’t accept unfair treatment, such as getting paid less than our co-workers. I think to really make a difference, we have to start with our personal worlds, then move to the world around us, instead of tackling all of society at once.

    • I really like that you added how we should address ourselves, Jenna. I think, as women, coming into ourselves and understanding ourselves has been a struggle all of our lives. But now that we know that stereotypes and norms are all fabricated, it is time that we make a personal effort to unlearn them. Especially after this women lead course, we have learned all about how imposter syndrome and self-doubt are common and detrimental factors to our success, we can finally find a way to defeat them. Not only will we be taking a personal stand, but we will also be setting examples for all of our female peers who are watching.

  9. This is such a big contradiction women face. When we’re too quiet we get paid less, but when we stand our ground and use our voice, we are deemed “bossy”. I feel the workplace can really be a lose-lose situation for a lot of women. My suggestion would be to be very assertive when it comes to pay if nothing else. I know I can be a shy person naturally, so I might fall into this “nice” category, but I will not be taken for granted. If I feel I am not being valued, I would find employment elsewhere.

    • Semaje,
      I completely agree with your statement; this study also supports your feelings on the the workplace being a lose-lose environment for women. As the study stated ; more assertive women get paid more than the women who are less likely to possess traits of assertiveness, but yet still get paid less than men. So my thoughts after reading this were that the problem isn’t that women aren’t being assertive enough and therefore get paid less since even the women who were deemed being dominant are still getting paid less than their male counterparts. I just think that it isn’t fair to base someone’s salary on character traits such as being nice and compliant versus being more dominant and assertive. People are different, as we learned and saw when everyone shared their MBTI results. Some people are just more naturally soft spoken and compliant while others may be more assertive and express dominance. These are not traits that affect anyone’s productivity or how good they are at their job, so I just don’t see how women who are seen as being “nice” are getting paid less than women who are seen as “assertive” (and same goes for men). It just isn’t fair or logical. So although I see where you are coming from; that it makes sense to try and be more assertive in order to gain respect from others and get recognition for your work and a salary that you deserve, I think there is a bigger problem to tackle which is to question these stigmas and find a way to eliminate the bias in how people are paid based on character traits like these ones. It sometimes feel like a double edge sword when knowing that as a woman in the workplace you are expected to be nice and friendly to everyone which to a lot of people means that a woman should be compliant and not outspoken, but then get paid less for doing so. And then the other side is being dominant and assertive and speaking out for yourself but going against the expected gender norms and get criticized for being bossy. My question is how can we work towards a workplace where women (and anyone) can just be themselves and express themselves however they choose to (whether they are naturally shy and compliant with others or more assertive and take on dominant roles) and still compensate everyone in a fair manner based on their performance and the quality of the work that they do rather than their character traits. I just don’t think it’s wise to assume or expect women to take on more “dominant” character traits to get paid more, especially when they are already getting paid less than men anyways. I think everyone deserves to be valued (as you said) and get the recognition they deserve regardless of how outspoken they are or aren’t.

  10. I hear from many of my peers that their female bosses are “excessively aggressive” and mean. In addition to the possibility that aggressiveness is vital for women to succeed in almost any field, there is that women may be perceived as more aggressive even when they are not.
    My dad always encouraged me to avoid thinking about my feelings, and go for what I what I really wanted, even if it wasn’t what society asked for. And yet, my doing or saying certain things is sometimes perceived as hostile or stand-offish while, if it were coming from a man, it would be considered normal.
    Much of what this study finds seems to be a point on gender norms in general.

    • I agree that women whom go after what they want and ask things of others are thought of as bossy and mean while men can do the same thing and be revered for his leadership and good management. Why is this the case? This is because of gender roles and the fact that society as represented women as being only gentle and passive. A woman that takes charge is the anomaly in societal eyes and is chastised for it. I believe that it is just as important for women to be able to hold the same positions and be given the opportunities and rewards as men. If the gender roles were reversed, men would want the same opportunities as women, so it is really offbeat for men to put women in these kinds of situations.

  11. The pay gap between salaries of men and women were always evident, but nicer and more permissive women being at the bottom of the pay scale is a new idea to me. However, I understand why this is the case as it is easy for employers to take advantage of a women’s kindness. If she doesn’t explicitly ask to be compensated more, why go out your way to do so? This should not be the case with women though and is unfair as men are compensated for their value immediately and without questions. Asking and making demands for higher pay is a double-edged sword for women. Yes, they may get the pay that they rightfully deserve, but they are often regarded as “bossy” or “not a team player.” How can close the hole in the pay gap? We have employers recognized their biases and hold them accountable, both men and women, in ensuring that employees are rightfully compensated based on their credentials and value.

    • I agree with holding the employers accountable. It makes since for them to offer the lowest compensation that they believe an employee is willing to accept, but they are in a position where their gender biases can lead to significant difference in compensation. An interesting aspect of this study is that within both sexes, those who were more passive were compensated less, yet dominate women were still compensated less than passive men. I think this is the result of employers assuming that men are more easily insulted by offers that are lower than what they believe they deserve. This bias may cause employers to lower the threshold of what they believe to be a non-insulting offer when it comes to hiring their female employees. Like you said, the employers have to recognize their own biases in this situation. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily cost-efficient for them to do so, therefore, reaching income equality will be difficult until they are willing to acknowledge this issue.

  12. After reading this post, I am quite surprised that women make significantly more than men. Looking at graduates from colleges and universities, there are significantly more women graduates than there are men graduates. However, I do believe women are often steorotyped in the workplace. IF a women takes charge of an assignment, people may view her as bossy or controlling instead of seeing her as a strong leader. In contrast, I was ignorant of the pay gap between the salaries of men and women. It appears that women have to come off as assertive to receive a higher pay check, which is unfair to women with naturally nice personalities.

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