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Image / Agenda / Business

The lingering gender pay gap: One woman’s expert advice on how to narrow it

by Meg Walker
08th Mar 2021

Knowing how to navigate the gender gap is the first step to leaping across it, and hopefully narrowing it for other women. Author Joanne Lipman shares her expert advice.

As the first female deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, and until recently editor-in-chief of the USA Today Network and chief content officer of Gannett, Joanne Lipman has broken a lot of glass ceilings in her career, and knows just what lingers behind the infamous gender gap.

For her book, That’s What She Said, she extensively researched the ways in which women and men work – both separately and together – to uncover the secrets to narrowing that gap. Got your notepad ready? Her insight is enlightening…

The gender pay gap starts earlier than you think

We need to demand to be paid more, but women often don’t know what they’re worth. One of the teachers I site in my research looked at six-year-old children who were asked to do a task, and to pay themselves in Hershey’s Kisses – the boys paid themselves in more Kisses than the girls did. Right from the start, we are at this disadvantage, and that translates into the pay gap

Even the tiniest bias has an enormous impact

Rice University did a computer model of a company that was 50/50 male/female and they programmed in a one per cent bias, which is almost imperceptible, and by the time you get to the top level of that company, it’s 65 per cent male, so it doesn’t take a whole lot of bias to have this enormous influence. There’s this unconscious bias that kicks in – that men and women both have – against working women that works against women.

For example, McKinsey and Lean In’s survey found that women at every level of promotion are 15 per cent less likely than men to get promoted. Unconscious bias are the biases that we all have, deep inside of us – so deep, we don’t even know they exist – and a tiny little bias can have an outside influence. In order to break down cultural biases, we need to start thinking about this at home, not just the workplace.

Unconscious bias starts at infancy – research has shown that mothers routinely overestimate how quickly their sons begin to crawl, but underestimate how quickly their daughters do. They’re twice as likely to ask “Is my child a genius?” about a two-year-old boy than a two-year-old girl. So we can all start at home with really small things like noticing our own behaviour.

Being the female in a couple, it amazes me how often, when my husband and I go out somewhere and meet people we don’t know, they talk more to him, and I’m like arm candy. Most people tend to automatically gravitate towards the man and ask what he does for a living and listen to him more attentively than the woman he’s with. We have to be much more aware of behaviours like that.

The #MeToo movement isn’t simply a case of a few bad apples

I think a lot of men who are complaining, saying, “Where does it stop? Every man is getting called out; we keep hearing these stories”, what they need to understand is that this is not about individual men with bad behaviour, this is about systemic issues in society. Cutting out the bad apples – the Harvey Weinsteins – it’s not because every woman has been sexually assaulted, and it’s not because every woman is looking at her male colleagues as sexual predators – it’s because we live in a culture that has enabled that Harvey Weinstein behaviour and turned a blind eye to it. And we’re all a party to that.

When you have an organisation that allows that kind of stuff to go on at the top, you know you have an organisation where women are not respected throughout; where women are not treated equally as men, they’re probably not paid or promoted equally with men – because it’s a systemic issue. The harassment/abuse piece of it – it’s important to know that it’s the tip of the iceberg and it’s the whole iceberg we need to deal with.

I don’t think we’ll see full equality in my lifetime, nor my kids’ lifetime

The World Economic Forum estimates that it’ll take 170 years to get to full equality. I think there’s been a lot of progress in my lifetime, but I’d like to see that progress accelerating, and I think we’re at a moment in time where if we grab this moment and hold onto it, we actually could see true, rapid progress. Think about how quickly we came around to accepting and embracing gay marriage. I’d love to see that rapid time span for equality for women in the workplace.

Joanne Lipman’s advice to women in the workplace…

1 Interrupt the interruptors Women are interrupted three times more frequently than men. Whether you’re a boss or a colleague, if you hear a woman being interrupted, stop the interruptor, and say, “Wait a second, she was speaking, let’s let her finish and hear what she has to say.”

2 Try amplification Women in a group, if they’re not the majority of the group, their voices are often not even heard. Very often, they’ll say something, nobody seems to hear it, a man repeats it, and suddenly Bob is a genius and gets the credit for her idea. Amplification is when a woman says something, and a simpatico person – whether it’s a man or a woman – repeats what she said to make sure it is heard and that she gets credit for it.

3 Get a brag buddy Women are often overlooked and not given promotions nor credit. Research has shown that women are actually more effective than men when it comes to advocating on behalf of others, but women are not effective when advocating on their own behalves, whereas men are.

What the brag buddy does is tell you about my accomplishments, you tell me yours, and we each go and brag to the boss about the other. Look for a brag buddy, an ally – it could be a peer or it could be your boss. One of the reasons women don’t rise as often as men is because women tend to have mentors who give them advice, whereas men have sponsors – sponsors don’t just give advice, they have the power to get you a promotion. It’s really important to find somebody who has your back, and vice versa – you do it for them as well.

4 Arm yourself with data Women don’t always know what they are worth, but there is so much more data available these days on sites like salary.com, and there are organisations now that collect salaries so you can actually do research. You can also do research within your own company about what people with your experience level make. That is highly valuable because you’re talking cold hard facts.

5 If you’re not given that promotion or pay rise, listen carefully to the reason that’s given In my own career, I have heard, “Oh, you’re younger than somebody else – they may make more than you do, but they’re older, or they have an advanced degree and you don’t” – there are a lot of reasons that women are given and frankly, none of those reasons matter.

The only thing that matters is the job you are doing and the contribution you are making, and I know too many women who say, “Well, I’m taking a course at night and they’re allowing me to do that” – they make excuses or accept excuses for being paid less. Think about what your contribution is, and that is the only thing your pay should be based on.

6 Pretend you’re somebody else If you were your friend and not you, how would you advocate for that person? Write it down, and then advocate for yourself.


That’s What She Said: What Men (and Women) Need to Know About Working Together by Joanne Lipman (John Murray, approx €12.50) is out now in paperback, joannelipman.com. This interview was originally published in the April 2018 issue of IMAGE Magazine.

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