Sophie's Blog


It's common knowledge that the gender pay gap in Australia is 17.9%, which means that women are paid 17.9% less for performing the same job as their male counterparts. We also know that female board representation in Australia hovers around 20-25% in ASX 200 companies despite there being evidence that boards with women on them are more profitable. How can this be changed?

The simplistic answers seem to be to force employers to pay people equally for the same job and to introduce quotas for boards. The reason why these answers are simplistic is because they deal with the problem at the end. For true change, we need to look at the problem at their source. Here are some facts, we know to be true from various scholarly studies as quoted in 'Women don't ask' by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever:

1. Women tend to accept whatever starting salary is offered to them for their first job, which creates a disparity that compounds to the wide pay gap throughout a career.

2. When employers look at candidates for jobs, they also look at their current salaries and may incorrectly assume that the candidate on the higher salary  (men) are better candidates, so they get hired more often and promoted more often.

3. Men will more readily take credit for work done than women. I participated with another woman on a 'dummy' interview panel for the magazine marie claire where we interviewed two real life candidates for a supposed promotion. The woman when asked about her recent achievements, emphasised that the result was due to a group effort whilst the man ( who also worked in a group) said the results achieved were largely due to his initiatives and efforts. When asked why they thought, they should be promoted, the man said he was ready for the next move and knew, he would be able to add value to the role and company. The woman said, she 'thought' she 'might' be ready, but wasn't entirely sure. When it came time for the other woman ( a rare female board member) and myself to deliberate, we both agreed almost instantaneously, that we would give a pay rise and a promotion to the man over the woman! He was more confident and frankly a lot better at selling his own abilities.

4. Men simply ask more often for pay rises, better conditions and promotions. Women tend to wait and hope for someone to notice that they are doing good work and be given a pay rise or promotion that way! A woman came for coaching as she knew she was paid less than other people (men) in her company and also relative to the market. She said that she knows more about her job than some of her colleagues. When I asked if others knew that she knew more, she seemed perplexed, until I explained that she needs to make her knowledge known. After only two coaching sessions where we worked on how she could improve her personal brand internally, she was able to negotiate a pay rise larger than what she had originally set her sights on. This was before Cheryl Sandberg's advice for women to lean in, but that's exactly what she did. She started speaking up more and showcasing her expertise more.

5. The problem can be traced back to how we socialise kids at home e.g. girls are often asked to play games according to defined rules and boys tend to have more unstructured play. This leads to girls learning to play by the rules and to trust that the outcomes will be fair and equitable. Boys learn that they can create their own reality, so they are more enterprising and simply demand more.

6. It turns out from the research quoted in 'Women don't ask' that despite women being paid around 18% less than men, that women are more satisfied with their pay overall... herein lies the crux of the problem or what we in coaching refer to as 'Think, be, do'. The thoughts that women have, determine how they show up and how they show up, determine what their actions are and we all know, that our actions determine our results. So in this instance, women devalue or doubt their contribution, which makes them more tentative with asking for pay rises/promotions, which in turn means they actually receive less. Because they have low self esteem, they are ok with being paid less, sometimes even grateful!

What is the answer to solving the gender pay gap and lack of female board representation? First we have to ensure that we raise our sons AND daughters to believe, they deserve everything and need to ask for what they want as it all starts with their thoughts whether conscious or unconscious. Secondly we need to actively coach women to become aware of their self limitations and give them the confidence to ask. Thirdly we need employers to pay people for the value they bring to the company regardless of their gender. Lastly can we finally stop discussing the merits of quotas? The argument against quotas is always: 'it's not right to hire someone just because they are women'. Of course NOT! But we also know when there have been instances of blind applications, that women are more likely to be hired than if their gender is known. Quotas are supposed to counter our unconscious biases rather than give an unfair advantage.

In summary; Women need to lean in more and ask more!


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