When discussing the wage gap, it’s tempting to try to explain away the dramatic discrepancy. Some common theories: It’s because women take lower-paying jobs. It’s because all women are nurses or teachers (or something). It’s because women don’t negotiate well. It’s because women don’t ask for more money.
None of these are particularly good arguments against the wage gap, but we now have further proof that the last point simply isn’t true. New research published in May in the journal Industrial Relations found that actually, women do ask for raises at the same rate as men. They just aren’t granted the raises as often as men are.
Examining a dataset of 4,600 people in 800 workplaces from a nationwide workplace survey in Australia, researchers found that when they petition for a raise, men obtain it 20% of the time, while women only get it 15% of the time. Much discussion has been dedicated to why women don’t ask, or the words they use when they ask — the seminal 2003 book on the subject is literally called Women Don’t Ask. To understand how that theory has finally been toppled, Mic spoke to two of the researchers, Amanda Goodall, a senior lecturer at the Cass Business School at University of London, and Benjamin Artz, an associate professor at the Oshkosh College of Business at University of Wisconsin. Here are some takeaways.
1. The study compared men and women with identical characteristics
Again, it’s too simple to just say women don’t get raises. Can a fifth-grade teacher expect regular bumps compared to a VP in a competitive business like advertising? So the researchers evaluated responses, controlling for education levels, age, full-time vs. part-time employment and length of tenure at the company. “To give you a very obvious example, someone who works part-time may undoubtedly accept a lower salary, or may accept different working conditions,” Goodall said. “They may feel that they are allowed to work part-time, and it’s a benefit. They feel like they can’t push their luck.”
“We’re controlling so we can get like for like, and that’s really important,” she continued. “You want to make sure you’re looking at the same kind of men as the same kind of women. That’s why this finding was possible, and why this finding was so unique. It’s the first time that’s really happened in that way.”
2. Is discrimination at play? It’s still unclear
“Even we were surprised by the results,” the team wrote about their findings in the Harvard Business Review. “That’s why we say, ‘It looks like this may be an expression of discrimination,’” Goodall said. “Discrimination is the term we use, and we think this piece is an example of discrimination.” Her colleague isn’t so sure.
“We cannot say that discrimination is the reason behind why women are not getting raises at the rate of men, although they ask just as often. There may be other uncontrollable factors at play too,” Artz said. “It is somewhat well-documented that women tend to value their contributions in the workplace less than men do, and they also typically have lower expectations. Combined, these two tendencies might coalesce to unfortunately reduce women’s negotiating effectiveness. But we also cannot rule out discrimination.”
3. The dataset was from Australia, but the findings are applicable to the U.S.
It’s natural to wonder if the culture in Oz differs from that of the United States. Are Australian women more aggressive in their negotiation, or are Australian managers less discriminatory?
“I would say no. Why? Because we looked at the pay gap between men and women, and it replicates almost exactly the U.S., and the U.K. gender pay gaps,” Goodall said. “If we look at the number of women in senior positions in organizations, again that replicates almost exactly the number in the U.K. and the U.S.” It’s a bit sad that wage and leadership discrepancies cross all of the ponds, but it’s useful to know that the research could be applied and considered to American workplaces.
4. Younger women are asking for raises — and getting them
In their process of controlling for ages, the team found that the chasm wasn’t as wide for women and men under the age of 40. “Women under the age of 40 seem to be asking and getting [raises] to the same extent as men under the age of 40 — so it looks from the outset as if today, finally, society may be changing somewhat,” Goodall says. “Younger women and younger men may be getting to the same stage.” Yes, millennials, you can take heart. It seems that younger women are asking, and their workplaces are finally listening — and agreeing.
5. Keep asking for raises
In some ways, this study is pretty frustrating: It reveals that women have essentially been gaslit to think that they’re making less money because of their own choices, when actually the statistics show that they’re likely to be passed over no matter how they ask. Still, the ask needs to happen, as it’s rare for any manager to tap you on the shoulder and offer a 10% increase in pay. Arm yourself for that tough conversation with an airtight argument for why you deserve it, know which words will help (and hurt you) and get fired up for potential awkwardness by learning why 2018 is the perfect time to ask. If so many other millennial women are asking and getting, you should too.