Last Thursday I was lucky enough to attend two separate talks by two female Professors. Both mentioned that in order to get their foot on the ladder (in a good academic post) they had been encouraged by other staff to make the application. These women were both highly successful in their field and yet at the time when they were decided whether they could apply for a promotion they paused, were unsure and took some persuading to put themselves forward.
I think this is something that is common within women. One of the Professors I heard on that day, Professor Alison Liebling, is the Head of the Prison Reform Centre at the University of Cambridge. She informed us that prisons are filled with 95% men. In the research that had been carried out there were many reasons for this, but one of them was because women, in childhood and as they developed were taught to be self-disciplining – this meant they were less likely to cross lines. Whilst this may have benefits in considering whether or not we will end up in prison, providing we are law abiding, it seems that this can have significant disadvantages. We’re unwilling to cross lines, to bend rules, to over-sell ourselves. And if everyone played by the same rules, this would maybe be okay, but typically men are willing to do all of the above and enjoy the advantages (and put up with the disadvantages) that come with it. I think this is one of the reasons why women hold back.
I had a conversation with a group of friends yesterday, I was face-timing into the conversation (the joys of having recently moved away from a close-knit group of friends) and we were discussing potential new jobs. One of my friends was considering a job in another city, there were two jobs being advertised in a company she was very interested in working for; she was over-qualified for one and under-qualified for the other. Another of our friends was currently in a similar role as the more senior role and we joked around suggesting that she should apply for the job. She jokingly agreed until she heard the salary that came with it and her response was ‘oh no, I’m not worth that’ – she had been in a similar job role for at least five years and her gut reaction was to reject it on the basis of too high a salary. I cannot help but wonder whether some of the gender pay gap isn’t just because men are asking/being rewarded more for doing the same job, but because more men are also applying for the roles that advertise the bigger salaries.
In fact, thinking about all of my friends, most of them University-educated, the women tend to earn less than the men, they are all incredibly talented, but they have not chosen the highest paying job they could get.
Some reasons that my female friends have chosen ‘lower-paying’ jobs
- they really want to work for the company and so took an entry level job (or on one occasion a volunteer position), so that they could work their way up to their competence level;
- they do not think they deserve to a higher paying job (when they do);
- they do not think their skills match the higher paying job description (when they do);
- they do not even think they about a higher-paying job in a realistic way;
- they apply for jobs based on proximity to home, annual leave or maternity leave.
Some of these reasons are really valid, others not, but if even very intelligent female professors need encouragement, then I think all women do. I’m not really sure how we can provide this in a meaningful way – but I’m going to think about it.