Evidently, only men are supposed to ask for raises. Women who do will only annoy their bosses and instead should simply have faith in the system and hope for good karma. This is what Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently stated. Although he later apologized for his “inarticulate” response, the fact remains that his initial answer serves to mask the tremendous gender wage gap that still exists. It also reinforces dangerous beliefs about workplace communication, which research has found already differs in ways that generally disadvantage female workers.
It is very clear that women’s wages still lag behind men’s in most every industry. In 2013, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) found that full-time, year-round female workers earned 78 percent of what their male counterparts earned. In the technology industry, women earn, on average, $6,358 less than their male counterparts, and women with at least one child earn $11,247 less than all other workers, according to a study by the American Institute for Economic Research. The AAUW found that female engineers made 88 percent of their male counterparts’ salaries, while women in the financial services industry earn $14,067 a year less than men, according to the American Institute for Economic Research.
Although there are many factors that explain the gender wage gap, one of them involves exactly what Nadella denounced: negotiating salary and raises. Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever reported in their 2007 book Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation and Positive Strategies for Change that men are eight times more likely than women to negotiate their salary.
Another factor that likely impacts the wages women receive from the start of their employment as well as through raises is the way that we are socialized to communicate. According to linguistics scholar Deborah Tannen, women are taught to seek praise, to apologize for issues that are not their fault, and to vent about problems rather than immediately begin “solving” them. While Tannen emphasizes that these are differences not necessarily disadvantages, when workplaces continue to be dominated by male leaders, as is the case with the tech, finance, and engineering fields, these stylistic differences may indeed result in challenges for female workers. If male bosses see women venting, or hear a woman constantly say she’s sorry, the impression they may have is that she is less capable than her male counterpart. If female workers constantly need praise whereas males simply do the work, it may be perceived as excessive neediness. Again, the problem is not that females’ communication styles are bad, but that they are used in the context of a male-dominated setting and thus may not be understood appropriately. The disadvantages will only worsen if women are discouraged from asking their bosses for raises.
As the National Women’s Law Center points out, closing the wage gap would significantly improve the finances of not just women but families as well. They found that if women made an additional $11,608 per year, it would be enough to pay the median cost of rent and utilities for 13 months, with $400 to spare, to feed a family of four for 13 months with $300 to spare, or to pay 18 months of full-time childcare costs for a four-year old with more than $300 to spare.
So, Satya Nadella, it is essential that women learn to communicate with their bosses and to successfully negotiate their salary and raises!