Study Busts Gender-Gap Myth That 'Women Don�t Ask'

Don Tennant
Slide Show

10 Negotiation Tips for Women�

Tips from "A Woman's Guide to Successful Negotiating."

According to conventional wisdom, one of the main reasons women lag men in compensation and advancement in the workplace is that women aren�t as aggressive as men are about asking for what they want. But a new study has provided empirical evidence that that�s simply not the case.

Catalyst, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of opportunities for women in the workplace, studied 3,345 �high-potential� men and women who had graduated from a full-time MBA program, and released the results in its report, �The Myth of the Ideal Worker: Does Doing All the Right Things Really Get Women Ahead?� The study found that men benefit from traditional �get-ahead� strategies far more than women do. The strategies adopted by high-potential women had little bearing on the rate at which they advanced to leadership. Conversely, men who applied the most proactive career strategies advanced further than other men. Ilene Lang, president and CEO of Catalyst, put it this way:

This study busts the myth that �women don't ask.� In fact, they do. But it doesn't get them very far. Men, by contrast, don't have to ask. What's wrong with this picture?

According to Catalyst, the study debunks several gender-gap myths that have created persistent obstacles for women in the workplace:

  • Women do ask, but asking doesn�t close the gender pay or position gap. After their first post-MBA jobs, there were no gender differences in whether or not high potentials negotiated for greater compensation (63 percent of women vs. 54 percent of men) or for a higher position when beginning their current job (19 percent of women vs. 17 percent of men). Even though these women negotiate for more when they change jobs, our research shows that women�s compensation growth was faster when they remained with the same employer, where they had proven performance, than when they started with a new employer, who paid based on potential.
  • Women are not seeking out slower career tracks. According to the study findings, women are less satisfied than men with their career growth. If women were intentionally seeking slower tracks, we would expect them to be as satisfied as men despite their slower advancement.
  • The same strategies don�t work equally well for men and women. Women must adopt strategies different from those of their male colleagues to advance their careers. When women were proactive in making their achievements known, they advanced further, increased their compensation growth, and were more satisfied with their careers. They also advanced further when they proactively networked with influential others. Making their achievements known did not impact men�s careers. Rather, gaining access to influential others also helped men advance, and indicating a willingness to work long hours and conducting external scans for other opportunities helped men increase their salaries.


Catalyst suggests that in order to attract, develop and retain high-potential women, corporate leaders ask some tough questions:

  • To what extent are employees in our organizations advanced and compensated based on strategic career tactics vs. skills and performance?
  • How are people being coached to get ahead?
  • Are assumptions being made that what worked for men in the past will work for women?
  • When women and men apply the same career strategies, do they evoke different reactions and are they evaluated differently?


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