October 25, 2016, by Emma Lowry

Women less likely to negotiate salary on first job than men

Following a recent survey by the Complete University Guide which showed male graduates earned a higher starting salary than their female counterparts in many fields, Professor Susan Marlow, from the Haydn Green Institute, University of Nottingham discusses why this disparity occurs and why women are bucking the trend in STEM subjects.

The Complete University Guide undertook an analysis of starting salaries for graduates in a number of academic disciplines.

It is somewhat disturbing to find that despite achieving slightly higher degree classifications, in the majority of cases, (77 per cent of the 57 disciplines listed) women commence their careers on lower starting salaries.

In 15 per cent of cases, male and female graduates are rewarded equally and in only 8 per cent of cases, are women paid slightly more than their male counterparts.

It is notable that these careers are strongly male-dominated, such that women may be reaping a ‘novelty bonus’.

Whilst the growing income gap between graduates as they progress in their careers has been well reported, largely attributed to time penalties accrued from child bearing, caring and domestic labour responsibilities; such disparity at the commencement of careers is more disturbing.

This suggests a more overt form of discrimination and really matters as small differences at the start of careers are magnified as time progresses.

However, it is somewhat unlikely that such disparity arises from overt discrimination; rather, more subtle influences are probably at work here.

Girls are socialised into having lower confidence and so, lower expectations of their capabilities – as such, they are likely to settle for lower salaries when offered their first job – less likely to negotiate and ‘bargain up’ the offer.

In addition, the data does not provide details of the type of careers the two sexes pursue at the onset of their careers; again, socialisation influences will encourage young women to select into lower status, lower paid sub-sectors of careers – described as ‘vertical segregation’ – such that in high status careers, there will be more women in the lower strata whilst men rise to the top.

The slightly more puzzling aspect is young women’s higher rewards in traditional male-dominated careers, where one would expect male closure and more overt discrimination might disadvantage women further, but rather the opposite effect seems to be the case.

Perhaps this is one more factor that should be used to encourage more women to pursue careers in science and engineering.

Susan Marlow is Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Haydn Green Institution of Enterprise and Innovation at The University of Nottingham; she is a holder of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion.

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