Not Leaning In, but Rising Up

DC Politics Human Rights

Pearl River     Credit to where credit is due, Sheryl Steinberg controversial and increasingly maligned Facebook executive and billionaire enabler of Mark Zuckerberg, enfant terrible, definitely gets credit for coining the phrase “lean in.”  In her conception, a significant problem with the underpayment of women in the workplace was that they were not leaning in, which is to say demanding more money.  In classic neoliberalist thinking, she might pay lip service to corporate greed and managerial exploitation or the declining rate of union density, but the heart of her little light in the darkness was that this could be somehow fixed if women just stepped up and asked for more.  It was on the sisters, not the brothers and the upper-ups to shorten this gap.  I’m sure her argument must have been more nuanced than this, but as it has seeped down into the workplace and popular culture, this was without doubt, the takeaway.

Researchers are now reporting in numerous studies the fact that Steinberg’s theory doesn’t match with reality among women, especially managerial women, that Steinberg was trying to push forward.  In fact, such women ask for more money every bit as frequently as men, but just don’t cash the checks later.

The Wall Street Journal reports on several recent studies.

A 2018 study from the University of Wisconsin examined the propensity to ask for salary bumps among 4,600 employees across 800 Australian workplaces and found no gender difference, but men who asked got raises 20% of the time compared with 15% of women.  In 2019, … this survey [was replicated] among 2,000 graduates of an elite U.S. business school and found that a greater proportion of women than men (64% to 59%) asked for raises and promotions, but they were turned down twice as often. Other recent research from Dartmouth has revealed that, relative to men, women who brought strong (and, importantly, identical) backup offers to the salary bargaining table were more likely to end up at an impasse, with no raise. The persistent myth that women don’t attempt to negotiate helps to justify the status quo and may obscure the true causes of the salary gap.

It almost gets worse.  These same researchers from the Haas School of Business with the University of California studied 2000 professional women ten years after they had gotten MBAs who were working in for-profit companies full-time.  Bad news.  They were making 74 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts, even as all women workers were making 82 centers to the male dollar.  Furthermore, they found that “women on average earned 71% of what men earned in director roles and 55% of what men earned in VP roles.”  Remember, these are big whoop, white-collar sisters, and they are finding with their own lean-in advocacy they are getting short sheeted.  Yes, they need a union, but instead, they are buying self-help, business-excuse, management-rationalization books.

The upshot is clear.  Big bosses aren’t giving women big responsibilities.   When they do, they aren’t paying them fair and square.

Drs. Laura Kray and Margaret Lee are plain-spoken in their conclusion:

It’s not about publicizing salaries, nor is it about women bucking up. If we continue to believe that it’s in the power of individual women to gain equal pay for themselves, then we will never get there.

I will be equally plain.  Women need to stand up to stop this.  They need to do so together and at the top of their lungs. We’re with you sisters!