In the Lean In era, women are taught that negotiating our pay and asking for periodic raises are some of the best ways we can avoid falling into the gender wage gap. But just as women are often penalized for demanding more money in salary negotiations while men emerge unscathed, women are less likely to get that raise than their male peers.
A new study of 4,600 employees at 800 organizations in Australia found that women ask for wage increases just as often as men, but their employers are 25 percent less likely to give it to them. Men who asked for raises were granted them 20 percent of the time; women who asked got raises 16 percent of the time.
These numbers contradict the idea that women would get paid more if they just overcame their fears of confrontation, risked coming off as aggressive, and asked for the money they deserved. “Ours is the first proper test of the reticent-female theory, and the evidence doesn’t stand up,” co-author Amanda Goodall said. One reason it’s important to scrutinize this hypothetical narrative is that the “reticent-female theory” assigns at least part of the responsibility for gender discrepancies to female workers and their actions, which may not be fair, accurate, or helpful in overcoming the pay gap.
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin and the U.K.’s University of Warwick and City, University of London got their information from Australia because it’s the only country that keeps records of whether employees ask for raises and get them. The Australian Workplace Relations Survey gave the study’s authors data from a representative sample of the country’s workers and employers from 2013 to 2014. Co-author Andrew Oswald told CNNMoney that Australia’s gender pay gap—about 15 percent—and economic structure are similar enough to those of Great Britain and the U.S. to make its data relevant in those places, too.
The analysis controlled for employer and industry size, employee parenthood, work qualifications, and weekly work hours, because part-time employees were more reluctant to ask for raises. Authors also checked whether men and women began asking for raises at different stages of job tenure to make sure the difference in raise success wasn’t due to men asking earlier and more often than women. It wasn’t. The study also found that women who didn’t ask for a raise didn’t hold back because they were afraid of disrupting their work relationships—another common theory for the wage gap.
Age also played a role in whether or not women who took this survey got raises. Women under 40 asked for and received pay increases at the same rates as under-40 men. This could be an encouraging trend: Maybe young women have happened upon some kind of magical key to negotiation that their older peers have neglected. Good for them! Or maybe managers harbor the same preferences for young women over old women that the rest of society does.
“Having seen these findings, I think we have to accept that there is some element of pure discrimination against women,” Oswald said. Funny, that’s what I’ve thought about nearly every gender-in-the-workplace study I’ve ever read, and yet here we are, with a majority of American men believing sexism is over.