Gender Schemas and Unequal Pay

This is the second of three discussion posts for Week 1 of Feminist Theory and the Joy of Science. You can find all posts for this course by going to the archives and clicking on “Joy of Science” under in the Category section.
This post deals with the readings by Silverman and by Wenneras & Wold, as well as the NSF report “Beyond Bias and Barriers”.


These readings deal with two major issues that dog women throughout their careers in science and engineering: the wage gap and gender bias in peer review. Lest you think the data in the Silverman piece are out of date, consider the information reported in the November 2006 supplement of The Scientist in the article Show Me The Money by Anne Fleckenstein:

Female full professors in the life sciences earn, on average, $3,000 less per year than equally ranked men…[In] 2004…another study of faculty in academic medicine showed that even when controlling for total publications, years of seniority, and hours worked per week, female faculty members were paid on average $12,000 less than their male peers.

Ouch. It shouldn’t have to cost so much just to be a woman. Or, conversely, why does a penis come with a bonus?
There are two likely possibilities to explain these wage gaps. One is gender bias. Another, says Fleckenstein, is the secrecy around salaries and benefits. Minorities and women don’t know just how much less they’re being paid than the white males. Ever see those ads with the line “send resume and salary requirements to…”? How do you come to know what’s the right number to put down for salary requirement? How do you learn to negotiate effectively for salary and start-up package – which will affect the rest of your academic career – when you are just a postdoc? It helps if you are already part of…well…a network…a good…old….boy’s network.
But let’s say you’ve managed to get some good mentoring, you’ve sharpened your negotiating skills, and you go into the job market as a savvy candidate. What now? Well, if you’re applying for one of those Swedish fellowships, let’s hope you’ve got those three extra papers in Science or Nature to help you look as good as the average male applicant. From the NSF report, we learn that controlled experiments and the study of real-life decision making show that

on the average, people are less likely to hire a woman than a man with identical qualifications, are less likely to ascribe credit to a woman than to a man for identical accomplishments, and, when information is scarce, will far more often give the benefit of the doubt to a man than to a woman.

But why does this happen? Virginia Valian has collected and analyzed much of the research on this phenomenon in her book Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women. She tells us:

[M]en and women alike have implicit hypotheses about gender differences – gender schemas – that create small sex differences in characteristics, behaviors, perceptions, and evaluations of men and women. Those small imbalances accumulate to advantage men and disadvantage women. The most important consequence of gender schemas for professional life is that men tend to be overrated and women underrated.

So what do we do? Do we throw up our hands in despair and say “that’s just the way it is” or “I’d like things to be different but I don’t know where to begin”?
One place to begin might be the Hunter College Gender Equity Project. I particularly recommend the Equity Materials under the Resources link.
I think there’s more to be said here about the whole issue of “life choices” and low wages in jobs with high non-salary rewards, as described in the Silverman piece. But that might be a topic for a post of its own. Perhaps some of you out there have something to say about it? Maybe in conjunction with the last X-Gals piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Too Few Choices? Hmmm….seems like something we’ll have to come back to later.

  1. February 12, 2007 at 10:07 pm

    Dear Zuska,
    I haven’t been reading your posts for a while because my laptop died (freakin’ IBM StinkPad…I most heartily non-recommend them…mine was only 9 months old when it died). I finally checked in on you today using a borrowed laptop and discovered your “online course”. Kudos on an excellent idea.
    Regarding the wage gap, I fully agree that a large portion of the problem is likely due to the secretive nature of what people get paid. Also, women may be actually directed to ask for less by people who are supposed to be mentoring them. For instance, in 2003 I was short-short-listed for a faculty position (ie; my husband and I were the top two candidates, but there was only one job). We had gotten to the point where I was not formally offered the job but was actually asked to work out what I wanted in start-up money and salary. My postdoctoral supervisor at the time told me that I would “never get more than around $55,000 per year” as starting salary. On my husband’s side, he was told by his postdoctoral supervisor to ask for $90,000 per year. My husband ultimately got the job, and the salary he negotiated was actually not far from his asking price.
    My husband and I were equally qualified for the job, and if anything, my research record was better than his. But my “mentor” felt that the best salary I could negotiate was around $30,000 less than what my male counterpart could negotiate. My former supervisor was (and is) a complete asshole, but something tells me that there may be some truth in what he told me…no matter how stellar my research record and even with all the mentoring support in the world, I doubt I could go to any university in the US and start negotiations by asking for a top-tier starting salary. Melissa Franklin of Harvard tried that at a university in Canada and I remember the disgust in the voices of the male professors at my Canadian doctoral alma mater when they spoke of her…just who did that uppity bitch think she was, asking for a top-tier starting salary?
    I think even well meaning mentors (which my former supervisor definitely was not) may direct their female mentees to negotiate for less (without actually saying that is what they are doing), simply to ensure that their mentee will have a fighting chance to climb the academic ladder to the next level. But the sad thing is that in academia your salary is pretty much forever tied to your starting salary, so if you start low-balled, you will live your career always making less than your male peers.
    One way to glean information on what the guys are getting paid is to just ask them. It’s kind of rude and in-your-face, but if you explain why you are asking the question, I think most male professors will tell you what they made initially, especially if they are on friendly terms with you, and especially if the year they started was at least a few years ago (so that if you ask what they made initially, it isn’t like asking what they make *now*). Also ask them about the salary negotiation process…did someone actively mentor them through it, or did they just figure out what they thought they deserved, and asked for that? How far apart were their initial salary demand and the final negotiated salary? etc etc etc. Ask, ask, ask. People aren’t going to just up and give you this info unless you ask for it.

  2. Joolya
    February 13, 2007 at 1:06 am

    Absinthe, THANK YOU!

  3. February 13, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    Another thing to keep in mind is that, with public universities in the U.S. – those supported by the state – salaries are public information. With just a tiny bit of digging you can find out what assistant professors in engineering are being paid at a university you are applying to. Also, the Chronicle of Higher Education annually publishes information about average salaries at universities public and private.

  4. February 13, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    I should have added, this access to public information about salaries was what my (female) mentors used to help me negotiate a starting salary at Kansas State University, a salary that was significantly higher than what they would have offered had I not negotiated. I also made them put in writing in an offer letter things like staff support, operating budget, and so on. Get it in writing, or it doesn’t exist.

  5. tobo
    February 13, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    I find this course really interesting. I was recently on a search committee for a computer science position. With three outstanding and overqualified candidates (one man and two women) one of the committee members suggested we hire the the young male candidate for two reasons: the other two candidates as women would not be as committed to their jobs because they probably have children and he would attract the kind of majors we want. Apparently his penis came with many bonuses. After several of us on the committee called him upon his gendered thinking in terms of raising children and in terms of major stereotypes he left the committee stating that he wasn’t able to explain what he meant. The reading makes me also realize now just how more qualified the two female candidates were in terms of number of publications than the male but how the committee weighted his gender and other appropriate “geek” characteristics (age for one) more to put him at parity with the women. Reflecting on this process now, we shouldn’t have even been considering him.

  6. February 14, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    Oh my lord. Tobo, the search committee story you tell makes me gnash my teeth in despair. Isn’t ANYONE giving search committees even the most basic instruction about what’s legal and what’s not? The kind of reasoning your pumpkin-headed colleague employed (“they won’t be committed to their jobs because they’ll probably have children”) is ILLEGAL. It’s also the kind of crap that could land a university in the middle of a very costly lawsuit for gender discrimination in hiring practices.
    The only tinsel lining to this very dark cloud is that when you have a moron whose prejudices are so open and out on the table like this, he’s often much easier to deal with than the ones who hide their prejudice behind the less blatant kinds of statements that you can’t exactly pin them on. You know, the ones who just don’t think she’s qualified, because she doesn’t have those three extra papers in Science or Nature.
    Faculty members have got to get the training they need – and the backing of the department and college leadership – to stand up to knuckleheads like this and tell them that they are not only WRONG, they are behaving in an illegal manner and they need to STOP before they get everyone in trouble. In this regard, industry is leaps and bounds ahead of academia, if only because they don’t want to risk the lawsuits.
    Oh, and my apologies to decent pumpkins everywhere for associating them with this moron.

  7. Frumious B
    February 15, 2007 at 10:39 am

    Ask, ask, ask. People aren’t going to just up and give you this info unless you ask for it.
    oh yeah. for a few years before I graduated, I asked everybody in my subfield what their offers were. most of them told me. a few hesitated a little, but when I told them I was making my own personal salary survey, they they went ahead and told me. I didn’t think to ask them if they negotiated.

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