Research out of Germany suggests that women who adopt a ‘masculine approach’ in the workplace earn up to $83,000 more in their working lives than ‘nicer’ female colleagues. The study, Does it Pay to be Nice, showed ‘Alpha females’ earned 4 per cent more than their ‘passive’ co-workers, while ‘neurotic’ women earned 3 per cent less.
While the research by German academic Guido Heineck of the Employment Research Centre in Nuremberg, found that personality traits were as important as intelligence in determining a woman’s salary, it also showed men’s earning potential was barely affected by personality issues.
Dr Sara Charlesworth from RMIT University in Victoria, is an expert on equal employment opportunity, industrial relations and work/family balance. She has worked on a number of government and NGO-funded research projects around pay equity and work and family balance.
Dr Charlesworth told Australian Women Online, “Without access to Guido Heineck’s survey instrument, I can’t actually judge the quality of his survey. But certainly the way that it was being written up in the media here, seems to suggest that women who demonstrate more masculine characteristics, earn more than those who are seen as passive or neurotic. But I think what’s happening here is that it’s tapping into gender stereotypes, particularly those around women in leadership.”
“Women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. We know for example here in Australia, there is a huge gender pay gap. Now when you try and go behind that – and the German research didn’t try and do that – people will often say, well women don’t demonstrate leadership qualities,” she said.
“Men don’t look out of place in leadership positions. There’s this idea that men are born to be leaders and everyday that is reinforced for us. So when women step out of that mold of being people in the workplace who are being supervised, all types of prejudices and stereotypes come to the fore, and I think it’s a real pity.”
Judy Wajcman, author of Managing Like A Man, interviewed both men and women leaders. Wajcman found that although women leaders display the some type of skills and attributes as men in leadership roles, they are seen very differently.
Often people think that because women are so rarely found at the very top level of the job market, that women in senior roles have got there because they are lacking in femininity and are therefore unlikable. Women who are feminine are generally well liked but they are not seen as strong leaders and therefore are undeserving of equal remuneration with men.
The research organisation Catalyst in the United States, completed a big study around gender stereotyping and they found that men were more likely to stereotype women leaders as either too soft or too hard.
“All women leaders have to face higher standards and where there are women leaders, these women were seen as either competent or likable, but they could never be both,” Dr Charlesworth said.
“I thought this rang true with what came through in the German research – that women who are seen as unfeminine might be grudgingly recognised as strong leaders, but they’re not seen as likable and they tend to stick out like a sore thumb.”
Dr Sara Charlesworth says there is an inherent danger in studies like the one undertaken in Germany, as they could be used by some to justify the gender pay gap that exists in countries like Australia.
“What also happens in jobs is there’s a history of market rates and if you’re a company and you find a man and a woman – and the man is earning $100,000 so you offer him $120,000. You find the woman has similar skills but she’s been on $80,000 so you offer her $100,000. Both of them are very pleased because they’re being paid more than they were in the previous job. But in my research it’s these kinds of decisions about starting salaries, that underpin the lower pay women receive in comparison to men.”
“Women are paid less than men simply because their skills and work are undervalued and that happens at the bottom of the job hierarchy as well. You’ve only got to look at what we pay childcare workers and aged care workers, in comparison to what we pay the people who take our rubbish away. We think that because women are doing ‘natural’ things like caring that it’s not worth as much money in the open job market.”
The CEO of an international company once told me that they would love to have more women in senior positions in their company but that women generally didn’t apply for these jobs.
“I spend a lot of time interviewing both women and men and often the women will say ‘you have to be twice as good as a man’ and you hear that again and again. So there’s a sense the bar is set higher for women and there’s also that old truism that men apply for jobs they think they’ve got the potential to do, whereas women only apply for jobs they have demonstrated they can do. Recruitment agencies will say that a lot,” Dr Charlesworth said.
“Often it’s just easier to appoint a man. It’s seen as less exceptional and there is the prejudice that even if his wife’s working she’s keeping the home fires burning, so he’ll be available more.”
“A lot of senior women complain that there will always be this assumption that their interests lie outside their work. So even if they’re working around the clock, there’s that sense that women are not as available as a man who may have a partner at home, or a nanny, or a housekeeper to organise everything for him.”
Something Managing Director of Emberin, Maureen Frank said to me last year comes to mind.
“Women have come out at home as being workers and men need to come out at work as being fathers and be proud of the fact that they’re fathers. I think a lot of men want to, but they’re not quite there yet. If you look at the research that is available, less than one percent of men access the parental leave they’re entitled to,” Maureen Frank said.
Dr Sara Charlesworth agrees. “I think that is so true. It’s that sense that people are not who we expect them to be and despite the fact that we’ve got increasing numbers of women in the workforce, we still have got that very powerful prejudice. I think it’s amazing that it’s lasted all this time because we’re almost at the stage where half the workforce are women and a lot of those have got what we would see as traditional family responsibilities.”
“As long as women who are in the paid workforce are expected to do the lion’s share of the unpaid work at home that will actually limit them.”
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