Pay gap due to lack of female applications

by Stephanie Zillman23 Aug 2012

New academic research has suggested that women continue to be underrepresented in high-paying jobs because they simply aren’t applying for them.

Contrary to previous studies and popular sentiment, which have suggested more sinister reasons are at play, the research from McGill University indicated that women themselves could be at the root of the discrepancy. Women are taking themselves out of the running for certain jobs based on their own assumptions that their application will be unsuccessful, the lead researcher said. “Combined with a preference for jobs with better work-life balances and a lack of identity with more stereotypically masculine jobs, such as you may find in the finance industry, in a sense [women] pre-empt what they think the employer’s decision will be, and opt-out first,” Professor Roxana Barbulescu from McGill University said.

Barbulescu’s research, which was done in collaboration with Professor Matthew Bidwell from the University of Pennsylvania, has offered what is understood to be the first direct evidence that similarly qualified men and women apply for roles based on their assumptions of traditional gender roles. The research aimed to investigate the assumption of gender-discrimination by understanding the process from the applicants’ side. “We did not find evidence to suggest women are less likely to receive job offers in any of the sectors we looked at once they applied,” Barbulescu said. The problem instead is in understanding the issues that make women believe they will not be successful in these traditionally male-dominated fields.

In addition to this research, another paper recently highlighted the influx of female talent entering the workforce over the next few years. The majority of university graduates are now women, and in three years’ time 70% of graduates will be female, a paper from consulting firm Regus noted. The time has come for business to revaluate how they are making their workplace a supportive environment for women, author of Meeting the future of work, John Blackwell, said. “Women are increasingly going to challenge the male dominance of the workplace, and they will seek out organisations that support the female worker and enable them to fulfil their career aspirations,” Blackwell commented.

The simplest and most effective way to demonstrate support for female workers may begin with advertising flexible working options, and by sitting down with staff to determine how their work can best be facilitated. “Gender disparity is an issue that Australia and the world have been facing for a long time, but now, with more women set to be entering the job market, the question of how organisations can harness the potential of their female employees is more significant than ever,” Jacqueline Lehmann from Regus said.


  • by Peter Macdonald 23/08/2012 1:38:46 PM

    When are we going to be bave enough o address the monkey in the room and recognise the fact that MANY women simply stop aspiring to senior management after the birth of their children. A new set of life priorities replaces the career drive. Hence there are fewer women to apply for senior roles. This will not change until it becomes an acceptable social norm for men to play (and want to play) the role of house husband. Once we recognise this then businesses can more adequately adapt their business structures to support the working career mother.

  • by Judy Higgins 23/08/2012 3:43:43 PM

    Peter, you are correct in saying that, but it's not the only reason I think. Certainly some of the industries/organisations (including the public service) have had subtle discriminiation in action. Women who were more qualified than the men simply didn't get the jobs, after a while they stop applying because they know what the culture is. Having said that, certainly many young women these days are working part time having made the decision to spend more time at home with their children. The role of house husband (which my son has been in full time for over 5 years) is very undervalued and even in some circles, frowned on. Businesses do have to be flexible and be prepared to job share where appropriately qualified women only want to work part time. Many men would be happy enough to do the same, and it could also be used as a way to develop people by putting them in the job for one or two days a week.

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