By Kate Macarthur
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) So what is “Getting Wahlberged”? As columnist Kate Macarthur shares, “It’s that moment when a woman learns how much more her male coworker got paid because the rules for negotiating weren’t clear, and he negotiated and she didn’t because she didn’t even know that something was negotiable.”
Controversy over the pay gap between Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams for the film “All the Money in the World” offered a defining moment in the fight for gender pay equality.
It highlighted that lack of transparency is a key component of inequity and that men seem to have a special fraternity when it comes to accessing and navigating the unwritten rules of compensation.
Call it “getting Wahlberged.” It’s that moment when a woman learns how much more her male coworker got paid because the rules for negotiating weren’t clear, and he negotiated and she didn’t because she didn’t even know that something was negotiable.
“It’s a great example that there are little moments for negotiation, and when they’re lost, they can lead to meaningful disparities,” said Hannah Riley Bowles, senior lecturer at Harvard University’s Kennedy School and a leading expert on how gender influences pay negotiations. “It’s the lack of transparency about what the norms or standards are that allow for secret or private deal-making. It’s a big wake-up call to women of being aware whether there might be opportunities to negotiate.”
This is where men have a distinct advantage. “The difference between men and women is that women are hesitant to negotiate when they’re not clear that they’re able to negotiate,” she said. Her research confirms that men are more willing to bargain and better understand the social conventions for it. While both men and women are perceived to be more demanding and less nice when haggling, women get penalized for it much more than men.
“The social cost is too high,” said Bowles. “The primary reason women don’t assert themselves is that they’re more likely to receive backlash for negotiating than men. In male-dominant fields, men are likely to have better information and access to opportunities.”
Until a cultural revolution or legislation can dislodge the built-in male advantage — hello salary histories — the onus still falls on women themselves to level the disparity. Bowles encourages women to ask around about what is negotiable and what the norms, standards and opportunities are before engaging the employer.
“If you’re clear on the norms and you go in, you’ll have a better outcome,” she said. It’s also important to get advice from people across genders. “If women are asking women and men are asking men, they may come up with different answers as to what’s negotiable,” she said.
There are more places than ever to find compensation information. Industry associations and magazines, as well as job sites like LinkedIn, Glassdoor and PayScale, publish a trove of insights about salaries, benefits and negotiation trends.
According to a PayScale survey, 57 percent of 31,000 people polled had not asked for a raise in their current field. Among workers who were paid in the $10,000 to $20,000 range, 31 percent asked for a raise and 25 percent of those who asked got one.
Of negotiators who earn more than $150,000, 51 percent asked for a raise and 70 percent of those who asked received one. “If you make less money, you’re less likely to have asked for a raise in first place, but you’re also less likely to get one,” said Lydia Frank, vice president of content strategy at PayScale.
The survey also found a difference between men and women with MBA degrees. Among all the different college-degree levels for women, those with MBAs were slightly more successful than women with other degrees in receiving a raise if they asked for one, with 48 percent compared with an average 43 percent, respectively. But male MBAs far outpaced other male degree holders in getting raises — 63 percent compared with an average 45 percent — and were successful far more often than their female MBA peers at 48 percent.
Barbara Yong, a partner at business law firm Golan Christie Taglia in Chicago, learned the ins and outs of negotiation the hard way. When she was a younger partner at another law firm, she didn’t stand up for herself when the partners were divvying up the profit.
“I was naive enough to give some money back, so the men would be satisfied, and none of the men did that,” she said. “At that time, it didn’t occur to me that I should be fighting for what I’m worth. I just lived with it and said, ‘Never again.’ The next time, ‘I certainly didn’t offer,'” she said.
Yong also is the lead organizer of Equal Pay Day Chicago and a member of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which advocates for equity for women and girls and holds Work Smart workshops across the country on pay and negotiation. Now when she gives talks about salary negotiations, “I remind people that everything is negotiable, including benefits,” said Yong.
Among the things she said that can be bargained for are vacation days, paid time off, insurance coverage and additional coverage for your family. Other things that people don’t think about are severance packages and the duration and scope of non-competes.
For part-time workers who don’t get benefits and can’t choose their schedule, she suggested asking to get the schedule a week or two in advance, so you can make arrangements for child care, etc. For lower level jobs, she said, people could negotiate the ability to work from home and use of company computers and cellular phone service.
Another factor is how employees fit into the company culture. Some CEOs identify employees as patriots or mercenaries, with the former motivated by the mission and the good of the company, and the latter more driven by their own personal gain. But even patriots can learn to negotiate.
Dorri McWhorter, CEO of the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, admits to being one of those team-player types who feared backlash from negotiating her salary. She said she tried to make up for it by demonstrating her worth.
“The fact is that you never do,” she said. It took her 10 years into her career to learn to meaningfully negotiate after being put in a role that gave her access to her colleagues’ salaries. When she saw that her salary fell short, she went to her boss feeling angry but outwardly calm.
She didn’t get the raise and eventually took another job. When she negotiated at her next job, her pay was 25 percent more. “When you shortchange yourself, you become an advocate for others,” she said. The YWCA holds negotiation workshops with the AAUW curriculum.
Now as an employer, she does research to identify the best offer she can give for a job and actively seeks out new benefit options.
Last week, McWhorter sent a memo to her employees offering six weeks of paid Family and Medical Leave Act time off. “For a not-for-profit with 90 percent women employees, it is a significant move,” she said.
Kate MacArthur is a freelancer.