Preparing for War

Whether it is the first job or one in a succession of jobs, how you handle yourself in the interview and salary discussion sets the pattern for your tenure at that company.

The wage gap between men and women starts at the point of hiring, say experts who have studied the issue or who work in human resources. It is affected later in life if women interrupt their careers to have and care for children, and sometimes for reasons that can’t be explained by any obvious reason.

Part of the difference may well be culturally based — women are raised to be different from men in their social interactions, and that can carry over to job interviews and salary negotiations.

But there are ways women can prepare themselves to demand and receive a wage that is more comparable with men in the same or similar jobs. Let’s start with some basics.

It’s in the Voice Women — especially young women — may send unintended signals in their speech patterns. Record yourself in conversation with another person in a mock interview and then listen to your voice. Do you sound like a little girl rather than an adult woman? If your voice is high-pitched, consider whether that is natural or an affectation that you have learned. Ask yourself if you were making the hiring decision how you would react to your voice. You want to come across as mature and in command. It is possible to lower the pitch of your voice consciously, and you should practice that with a recorder as well.

Many women and some men tend to end their sentences on a rising inflection. Dr. Tracey Rockett at the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University presents programs on beating the wage gap to women’s groups. She calls this “uptalk.” “When you use uptalk, you are asking for permission, rather than making a statement,” she says. It also makes you sound uncertain about the information you have just relayed. She suggests using active rather than passive voice and avoiding qualifying words such as maybe and perhaps when they are not needed.

“Another weird thing that women are increasingly doing is something called ‘vocal fry.’ This is used a lot by the younger generation — think Kim Kardashian,” Rockett said. “This is a weird little creaky sound at the end of a sentence where the register drops and the voice vibrates. Women are viewed more negatively in the workplace when they use uptalk and vocal fry.”

Confidence is Key Expert after expert notes that women tend to be less confident in themselves than men, and this can affect everything from the willingness to negotiate over salary to the demeanor presented in the job interview itself.

There are lots of little traditional tricks to use in interviews, some of them bizarre, such as imagining the people interviewing you nude. Whether that works depends on whether it is distracting to you. I often advised students in my classes when I taught as an adjunct at TCU to buy something like a tie for men or a scarf for women that is outrageously expensive, and when the going gets tough, to remember that your garment cost more that the garments of the people interviewing you. But the best strategy is to simply understand and believe that you are well trained and well qualified and the company would be lucky to have you work for them.

One way to prepare for future success in the business world can’t be added in at the last minute, but is something to consider as early as elementary school — sports. “A study by the U.S. Department of Education found that 80 percent of female managers of Fortune 500 companies played sports as girls,” Rockett said. “There is even evidence that shows that girls who played sports earn higher salaries.” Coaches in Texas like to say that playing football builds confidence in boys and men, and this is likely true. “Sports teach women to be competitive, to persevere, to fail and get back up, to lead and be team players, to not take things personally, to take risks and to develop confidence,” Rockett said.

She also points out that many of the values in American business are what some may considers primarily feminine traits, and the fact that women possess these are advantages that should build confidence rather than insecurity. They include being more comfortable than men asking others for their opinions, seeking consensus in decision-making, being willing to share credit and being good at networking and team building.

Art of Negotiation Women are just as ambitious as men — sometimes more so — but that doesn’t show up in the wages they are paid. People interviewed for this series repeatedly cited two reasons — being unwilling to negotiate on a salary offer and thinking that self-promotion is somehow unseemly.

“Women are absolutely less likely to be pushy or aggressive when competing for assignments and positions,” say Rockett.

Jesse Owens of the Merle Owens & Associates executive search firm agrees. “My experience has been men are much more likely to demand the maximum compensation limit when our client is ready to make them an offer,” he said. “Women are more content and accepting of the compensation offer as long as it is in the range of pay previously discussed. They are less likely to demand the maximum for fear of losing the offer.”

In some cases, women may be hostage to their spouse, changing jobs and even careers when he is promoted to different positions. As a result, they may consider their work secondary to his and more temporary. But the best advice here is to approach every job and city as though you will be there the rest of your life.

Knowledge is power, and women should prepare for salary negotiations as much as possible.

“As in any situation, you need to do your research about the firm and the industry,” says Dr. Rachel Croson, dean of the University of Texas at Arlington College of Business. “What are typical salaries for similar positions, similar firms, similar industries? Does the firm have salary bands that they need to stay in for particular positions, or is everything flexible? Who is the decision-maker on salaries; should you be negotiating with your potential boss or with the HR department?” There may be other areas of negotiation such as benefits, year-end bonuses, or the speed at which performance is evaluated and considered for promotion.

“One of the most common mistakes that individuals — especially women — make when they negotiate for their job is that they tie their salary for the new job to the salary they are currently earning,” Croson said. Employers want to know current salary so they can make an attractive offer. But you want to be paid a salary appropriate to this job’s responsibilities and duties. Your task, then, is to find the appropriate salary to request that matches the job description and resources of the new employer, not your previous job,” she said.

Owens also stressed the need for research. “Do your homework on the company, really do homework,” he said. He suggests checking social media and sites such as for feedback on the management team. “Ask pointed, but professional questions about leadership styles and decision-making processes. As far as negotiations, if one has done good research, then be sure to ask for what will make you and your family secure, whether it is stock, a golf or private club membership or even auto allowance,” Owens said.

Breaking the Glass Ceiling If it is not one thing standing in the way of advancement for women in employment, it may well be two others.

Just where the term “glass ceiling” came from is unclear. In her essay “The Women’s Movement Today” in A Beautiful Life and Other Stories by The Writers Discussion Group, Peggy Lovelace Ellis attributes it to female employees of Hewlett-Packard — Katherine Lawrence and Marianne Schreiber — who used it in 1979 to describe barriers to career advancement women faced in male-dominated companies.

The phrase also shows up in an article in Adweek in 1984 in an article about Gay Bryant, editor of Working Woman magazine. “Women have reached a certain point — I call it the glass ceiling. They’re in the top of middle management, and they’re stopping and getting stuck,” she said. “There isn’t enough room for all those women at the top. Some are going into business for themselves. Others are going out and raising families.”

In 1991, the U.S. Department of Labor defined the phrase as “those artificial barriers based on attitudinal or organizational bias that prevent qualified individuals from advancing upward in their organization into management-level positions.” That same year, Sen. Robert Dole introduced the Glass Ceiling Act, which was incorporated into the Civil Rights Act of 1991. The act also established the Glass Ceiling Commission to study advancement and pay in the marketplace.

And here it is 2015, and we’re still talking about the glass ceiling and two newer concepts, the class cliff and the glass escalator.

“When women are able to break the glass ceiling, they are often promoted to positions that have a higher risk of failure such as business units in crisis,” said Dr. Tracey Rockett, associate professor of Professional Practice and Neeley Honors Faculty Associate Director at TCU. Rockett said that might be because companies in crisis are looking to make a dramatic change. But other research indicates that women or minorities picked for such a job may have less of a honeymoon to turn things around than a more traditional — read white guy — manager.

Men are more likely to turn down a risky job, but women may think that it is their only shot, Rockett said. “Then when the company doesn’t recover, it is believed to be due to the female leader, and she is let go while the performance was on a downward trajectory, and any leader would have struggled to turn it around.”

Add in the concept of the glass escalator. Men seeking secure employment in an uncertain economy are migrating to jobs formerly held primarily by women. But even then, they tend to earn higher salaries and be promoted more quickly than women. Adia Harvey Wingfield of Georgia State University notes that researchers have “identified this process among men nurses, social workers, paralegals and librarians and have cited its pervasiveness as evidence of men’s consistent advantage in the workplace, such that even in jobs where men are numerical minorities, they are likely to enjoy higher wages and faster promotions.” Wingfield also said in her paper, Racializing the Glass Elevator, that glass elevator does not benefit minority men as much as their white counterparts.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2013, among social workers, there were 129,000 men and 507,000 women in the United States, but men’s median weekly earning were $978 compared to $818 for women.

The issue may be one of long-standing perception of what a leader is, said Dr. Caren Goldberg, an assistant professor in the Psychology Department at George Mason University. People tend to link leadership stereotypes with men more than women, despite the value assigned to skills that women on average do better than men, such as team building, motivating employees and interpersonal and conflict resolution.

But the influx of men into formerly primarily women-dominated jobs is not all bad. “Certainly there are short-term negative implications for women, but in any profession as a whole, as men enter in greater numbers, salaries tend to go up,” Goldberg said.

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