How wine can help women close the gender pay gap

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Over a decade ago, a powerful entry in the Harvard Business Review expanded our understanding of the continuing pay gap, warning leaders against rewarding volume over value when handing out promotions and pay raises. 'Nice Girls Don't Ask' references a study that saw just 7% of women attempting to negotiate their salary, compared to 57% of men.

Women are eight times less likely to negotiate their salary. The authors point to socialization and the very different score card women are judged against when they do speak up.

More recently, Kathleen Davis' review of 248 performance reviews in the tech sector became one of Fast Company's most-read leadership articles in 2014. She found that while fewer than 60% of men's performance reviews contained critical feedback, almost 90% of female reviews did. More insidious than this was the finding that women almost universally 'benefited' from feedback on their personality while these types of comments were strikingly absent from men's (performance) reviews. The word 'abrasive' was used to describe 13 different woman 17 times but never written once about a man.

A man is confident or assertive, while similarly wired women are aggressive and abrasive.

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With this backdrop, it's hardly surprising that women approach potential promotions within their organisation quite differently. A well-cited Hewlett Packard internal report proved that women only apply for promotion when they already feel 100% qualified. Men, conversely, will put themselves forward if they can mentally tick off 60% of the job requirements.

Tara Sophia Mohr expanded on this finding in her HBR report, and concludes that viewing job requirements as rigid pre-requisites rather than flexible guidelines holds women back. This would seem true, yet hearing in appraisals that there's something fundamentally 'not good enough' in your character likely plays its part too.

There are many subtle differences in how men and woman are treated and judged at work and its perhaps no surprise that there exists a considerably documented 'confidence gap' between men and women in the workplace. Katty Kay and Claire Shipman's 2014 piece in The Atlantic is a must-read to better understand the psychological, sociological and economic factors that combine to perpetuate the inequalities so often downplayed by men. Kay and Shipman have interviewed some of the worlds most prominent women and discovered a prevalent self-doubt among females that never completely disappears, no matter how objectively successful we become.

"Compared with men, women don't consider themselves as ready for promotions, they predict they'll do worse on tests, and they generally underestimate their abilities."

Given socialization and the support, both verbal and financial, to warrant much greater confidence, is it any wonder that men today are generally more optimistic about the lot of women? 67% believe women have equal opportunities in the workplace today compared with just 38% of women who can say that. This gap is even greater in the tech industry. Given that the majority of senior leaders — and thus those who can most easily change the status-quo — are men, this is a worrying perception gap.

It's common to deflect questions of pay disparity by suggesting that women just don't have the same appetite for the highest paying jobs. A thought-provoking study in The New York Times questions this, highlighting that as women start to dominate previously male-dominated fields, average pay subsequently drops. There are no shortage of examples — when women overtook men in design, housekeeping and biology, wages fell by 34%, 21% and 18% respectively — she posits that work done by women is simply valued less.

With female compensation for the same work stubbornly persisting well below the male equivalent, is it possible we've confused cause and effect?

There's many theories on why this pay gap exists and undoubtedly there are innumerable factors at play. One that hasn't been adequately advanced since Linda Babcock and team asserted that nice girls don't ask feels notably more hopeful than attempting to reverse lifetimes of socialization, battling natural predilections or just accepting blatant discrimination indefinitely.

There's a lesson waiting in our wine glass.

Consider the phenomenon of how price tag affects our perception of quality. It's long been known that when we believe a wine to be of higher value, we tend to report it tasting superior. There's evidence that shows this is more than just social reporting but deeply embedded in neurology. Bernd Webber, of the University of Bonn confirmed that "studies have shown that people enjoy identical products such as wine or chocolate more if they have a higher price tag.

"The volume of grey matter in those areas of the brain … was found to moderate the actual taste according to the effects of expectancy."

Does our attitude to women at work mirror how we assess wine? Male and female workers with similar academic backgrounds and work experience can feasibly be considered almost 'identical products.' So its not unlikely to believe a similar phenomenon is at play in the workplace. When we choose not to negotiate our salary, believing good work will be rewarded in the long run, we are inadvertently quieting our voice and dampening our influence before we've even shown up to work on day one.

Failing to demand what we're worth, we unconsciously reduce our value in the minds of our superiors and peers, creating an 'expectation' that we will under-perform compared to male counterparts and fueling a vicious cycle that needs to be broken.

Taking all this together, an invisible sequence of beliefs and behaviors is conspiring to propagate a world of work that is far from gender-equal today. We must accept that we are active participants in maintaining this gap every time we fail to demand what we're worth in salary and promotion conversations. Collectively asserting our value before we 'uncork' could hold the key to reducing this shameful disparity once and for all — and we're worth it.

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Jade Allan joins her commercial experience with the science of happiness and principles of yoga to champion a new leadership template, redefining success with happiness at the heart. Visit her site here.