Paycheck Politics: Women vs. Men

How to crush stereotypes in a workplace that is biased against women.

Nov. 1, 2007 — -- From running companies to running for president, women are on the way to catching up with men in positions of power. Where they aren't catching up is on their paychecks. On average, women still make just 77 cents on the dollar compared to men.

Two issues are at fault: women's uneasiness with negotiation and the perceptions of women versus men in terms of likability and clout.

We went undercover with a "GMA" Behavior Lab to find out what goes on behind those closed corporate doors when it comes to women asking for their fair share. We also took a look at how assertive women are perceived in comparison to assertive men.

Two actors -- one male, one female -- played job applicants with identical resumes, going for the same job. Volunteers watched their interviews -- scripted so as to be exactly the same -- during which both ask for more money. The volunteers are asked the following questions: a) Do they think the applicant would be a good worker? and b) Would they hire that person?

The results: The volunteers were 30 percent less likely to hire the woman than the man. The reason: She's too demanding and pushy, even though she said exactly the same things as her male counterpart.

Evaluating the Evaluators

When asked to explain their responses, the evaluators who were more critical of the woman applicant than the man told me that they're people with opinions just like you and me. We're so quick to blame employers for gender bias, but the three people in our experiment weren't given any criteria in which to judge the applicants. Their responses are a product of nature or nurture -- or both.

There's something within each of us that says women shouldn't be so assertive, but it's OK for men to be firm about what they want.

The path toward changing perceptions Women -- and men -- must acknowledge that we are all guilty of such biases, whether intentional or not, and must decide that the buck "starts" with each of us. If we catch ourselves thinking, "Oh, isn't she demanding and pushy," or "Isn't she quite full of herself," we must call ourselves on it and commit to thinking again. Hold yourself accountable.

The difficult double-edged sword for women at work Too often when a woman gets ahead, we think, "Who'd she sleep with?" Yet we don't assume the same about men. When a man is promoted we think, "He's smart, he earned it." Similarly, when a woman is firm in her demands, she's the B word. When a man is firm in his same exact demands, we say he's just doing his job.

When you catch yourself thinking or saying things that penalize women for speaking up and claiming credit for their successes -- which we've all been guilty of at some point in time -- agree to snap out of it. Agree to make a cognitive shift in your thinking.

And as women, we can't shy away from celebrating our successes simply because we fear that they'll be held against us. We must be willing to overcome the perception of the naysayers.

Overcoming perceptions Many experts tell women to just act more like men and they'll be fine -- I totally disagree with such a theory. I don't think women have to be more like men to advance their careers. Not only is it offensive, it's counterproductive in the long run because we're not being true to ourselves.

Women tend to go to extremes in the workplace, and it hurts us. For example, women can come across as too tough or too sharp in an effort to appear forceful and decisive, or too nice and too sweet to the point where we allow ourselves to be taken advantage of. A common example: Instead of giving an employee an assignment in a straightforward manner, some women managers sheepishly say, "Oh I hope I'm not bothering you, but would you mind doing this project?" Or they'll go the opposite route and bark the order, "I want this done and I want it done now." Neither way comes from a position of strength.

Work means not always having to say you're sorry On the flip side, some women allow themselves to be taken advantage of by always saying yes, while deep down they're furious at being buried in everyone else's tasks. Instead of shouting, "I can't take it anymore! Leave me alone," the next time someone tries to dump their work on your desk simply because they know you'll do anything, say, "You know, I've got so much of my own work to tackle right now, I won't be able to take on any of your work at this time." You don't have to be to be rude -- say it with a smile, but be firm.

Both when giving and getting work, don't apologize. That's what we have jobs for -- to work. Save "I'm sorry" for when you've truly done something wrong.

Negotiate! This is the one and only area where women can really take a cue from the guys. Men are simply more willing to speak up, especially when it comes to money, and that serves them quite well. Women must stop thinking we're not worthy, or we won't be liked if we ask for more. We can't afford to cheat ourselves out of the pay, positions, promotions and perks we deserve simply because we're not comfortable asking.

Men equate negotiating to sport; it's fun, healthy competition. Women cringe at asking for money as if it's a root canal -- but no smart gal would let her teeth rot. She'd get to that dentist for the procedure. The same logic applies to using her voice in any negotiation. Even if it's not comfortable, even if you don't relish it, you've got to do it anyway!

Tory Johnson is the Workplace Contributor on ABC's "Good Morning America" and the CEO of Women For Hire. Connect with her at