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A Different Take

GPISpring16Looking at gender pay inequality.

There has been much discussion recently regarding gender pay inequality. This conversation reached fever pitch with the disclosure that female actors earn less than their male counterparts. This information was made public as the result of the unauthorized disclosure of information from hackers. In response, the head of Sony Pictures stated that this is what was negotiated. In the world of corporate America, a similar cry has been heard. It’s reported that women currently are earning 78 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Having worked in the corporate HR world and now functioning as an outside vendor doing retained search — working with companies of various sizes, industries and geographies—I can honestly say that I have never experienced anyone purposefully offer female candidates less money that male candidates. What I have experienced is a desire time and time again by many of my clients for female talent to complement their existing staff. One would then have to wonder – why is there a problem?

It is believed that there are many issues not captured in statistics that contribute to the wage disparity between men and women. Many attribute this disparity to gender discrimination; however, I would like to bring an alternative perspective into the conversation. As an outside recruiter, I find myself reaching out to male and female professionals in many disciplines and industries as well as geographies. Over the course of many years, through thousands of telephone overtures made to potential job candidates, I have observed a set of behaviors exhibited by successful people of both genders. These include:

• They’re open minded. Successful people will take calls from an unknown recruiter, listen and follow through to learn more even if they have not previously thought about changing positions. They know the importance of gaining information and knowledge, two very powerful tools in building a stellar career.

• They’re well connected. Successful individuals make a point of knowing other people in their industry. They readily refer and connect others to opportunities.

• They have a career plan. Successful people may not know what the next five years will hold, but they have already thought about where they would like to take their career next. They understand the importance of being proactive to achieve their goals and don’t place their career in the hands of their employers.

• They’re proactive. Successful business people don’t get themselves caught up in the loyalty trap. It’s great to love your company, your co-workers and bosses; however, failing to be proactive will negatively impact your career progression.

My professional observation is that men and women who behave in this way are more successful. However, in my experience (and I am a woman), men do a better job than women at exhibiting these behaviors. Here are some examples of what I’ve seen:

• During a recent recession, all new college graduates had a difficult time transitioning into work. I personally observed young men taking whatever professional positions they could get. What did some of their female classmates do? Become receptionists. Think about how this one decision impacts a career path years down the road. These women put themselves in a disadvantaged situation from day one. Of course they now find themselves earning less money than their male counterpart’s years later.

• During efforts to develop a slate of candidates, my firm approached both men and women. None of these people knew me, nor were they actively seeking a new career opportunity. Statistically, women were more likely to hang up on the call or refuse the conversation all together, stating they aren’t interested before any information could be disclosed. Efforts to network yielded the following rebuff: “I do not know anyone!!” Failing to be open minded stalls career progression. Failure to have a solid network – and assist other colleagues by referring them for potential job opportunities impacts the careers of others.

• In reviewing compensation history, we have found that men who take on more work because of company downsizing negotiate earning more money. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to “be the team player” and readily take on more work without advocating for themselves regarding more compensation. Success in business means thinking and acting like a business person.

• I learned of a female executive who felt unfairly passed over for promotion. She stayed with the company for several years. Men are also passed over, but they will usually leave for a better opportunity in a reasonable length of time. Lesson learned – if you feel ready for that next level and your company doesn’t agree – find a new company. Otherwise, you are holding yourself back.

It’s unfortunate, but women more so than men, have a tendency to settle, not make waves and not view themselves as the dynamic professionals they really are. To be successful in business everyone (male and female) needs to view themselves as business people and understand those behaviors that embody a successful business person. Success in any career—measured in terms of managerial level and compensation—should be an individual’s personal mission. Regardless of gender, men and women who are prepared, informed and proactive will always win.

Cathleen Faerber is Managing Director at The Wellesley Group, Inc., a retainer based executive search firm based in the Chicago area. www.wellesleygroup.com. This article appeared as the Gender Pay Inequality feature in the spring 2016 issue of Management Today.

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