‘Nice’ women earn less: Study

The more agreeable a woman is at work, the lower her salary is likely to be, according to a new study

‘Nice’ women earn less: Study
Talk about a double-edged sword.

On one hand, studies suggest that agreeable women leaders are great at rallying a team and diplomacy in the workplace but a recent study found that the nicer or more agreeable a woman is at work, the lesser her salary is likely to be.

“We have witnessed dramatic changes in the definition of traditionally male and female qualities over the past several decades,” said study co-author Sharon Toker, professor at the Coller School of Business Management, Tel Aviv University.

“But some people still really cling to the idea that some qualities are exclusively male and exclusively female.” 

In their research published in The European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, Toker and her fellow researchers examined the “status inconsistencies between men and women through the lens of traditional male and female characteristics”.

They found that women who displayed dominant and assertive qualities earned significantly more than their meeker, humbler counterparts. They also found that the same goes for men (the more dominant the man, the higher the pay).

However, dominant women still earn far less than male colleagues, regardless of their displayed traits.

“We found that women aren't aware that more agreeable women are being punished for being nice," said fellow researcher Dr Michal Biron of the Department of Business Administration at the University of Haifa. 

"The nice women we polled in our study even believed they were earning more than they deserved."

They surveyed 375 male and female employees at a large Dutch multinational company through objective (tenure, education, performance data) and subjective data (perceived fit of education, experience and performance, income and ranking).

Biron said this painted a bleak picture as they found that women “were consistently and subjectively status-detracted” as they invested more of themselves at their jobs but got paid less across the board.

“But dominant women were not punished for reflecting such female-incongruent traits as extroversion and assertiveness,” added Dr Renee De Reuver of the Department of Human Resource studies at Tilburg University in The Netherlands to Science Daily.

Toker also said it “blew our minds” how in the subjective part of the study, nearly all employees said they were dissatisfied with their input-compensation ratio but nice women said they felt they earned too much.

“The data shows that they earn the least -- far less than what they deserve. And they rationalize the situation, making it less likely that they will make appropriate demands for equal pay,” she said.

Related stories:

How to negotiate a higher salary

Is the ‘queen bee syndrome’ derailing diversity in the C-suite?

How employee engagement differs by gender

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