The pay gap – is part of the problem women and their poor negotiating skills?

The reasons for the pay gap have been given considerable attention in the UK by academics and campaigners. The traditional reasons are usually distilled into a mixture of the longstanding undervaluing of work traditionally done by women, which is also associated with the segregated of women (such as the clustering of women into the 5 C’s roles of cleaning, catering, caring, cashiering and clerical), the negative impact of family responsibilities on careers and work patterns and straightforward pay discrimination.

The extent that individual women can make an impact on the discrimination is rarely discussed in the UK. The responsibility for change is usually squarely put on getting the forces of institutional and individual traditional patriarchy to alter pay arrangements. Our own approach in Pay Justice is targeting efforts associated with encouraging legal claims to help ensure that our legal entitlements are upheld.

We have recently been having fascinating discussions with American “pay coach”, Katie Donovan, Founder, Equal Pay Negotiations LLC . (We didn’t know pay coaches existed either!) Katie will be guest blogging about her approach to empowering women in pay negotiations.

These discussions with Katie have highlighted some key differences between the situation in the pay works in the USA and UK. Whilst in both countries the way pay is organised varies a great deal between companies, it is a generalisation that holds true, that American pay is more “market based” and part of what sets the market rate is how an individual negotiates start pay and pay rises. In the UK it is also a feature of pay, most prevalent on agreeing starting salaries but also in many companies there is still considerable scope to impact also on bonus and career and pay progression decisions.

Another key difference between America and us in the UK is the extent of “individualism” and the associated focus on personal responsibility. Crudely put, challenges in the US to the pay gap appears to have less of a focus on collective challenge more of a focus on individual personal responsibility for personal assertion. Whilst recognising both some of these cultural differences in the way pay works and also how change is best instigated, we do see that any strategy to address the extent of pay injustice has to address better and effective negotiation and assertion by women.

As anyone who has provided career coaching will know there is a general reluctance of women assert their strengths and achievements, certainly relative to men who more naturally “big themselves up”. The growing extent of more market and individual performance based pay (often associated with “broad pay bands”) will likely further raise the opportunity for this type of pay discrimination further.

A common transatlantic issue is having a fundamental basis for pay equality in law. Our role at Pay Justice is in enabling access to proper legal redress and as such is part of an overall eclectic approach to achieve change. As well as asserting themselves in negotiations women need to assert themselves by making more pay claims.

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