Women and the “ambition gap”

20 February 2013

A few semesters ago a student earnestly assured me that women earn less in today’s America (famously, about $.76 to every man’s $1) because they have less ambition. As exasperating as such claims are, I had no comeback — until now.

An article in the Atlantic offers a range of studies debunking the notion that women are shrinking violets in their jobs. They ask for raises at roughly the same rates as men; they negotiate at roughly the same rates; they ask for promotions. Moreover, “among MBA grads on a traditional career track, women are even more likely than men to seek out skill-building experiences and training opportunities and to make their achievements visible by asking for feedback and promotions.”

Women ask; they negotiate; they display ambition. They just don’t receive those raises and promotions.

Who to blame?

Maybe, the managers. One study told 184 managers that they would have a limited pot of money to hand out in raises to employees with identical skills and responsibilities. The managers that were told they’d have to negotiate gave men two-and-a-half times the amount in raises that they gave to women before anyone sat down. This meant that the men didn’t even need to negotiate for higher pay, while women were already at a disadvantage when they tried to bargain up, because the rest of the money was assigned to their male peers.

Honestly — it makes me want to negotiate my salary right now. And then get myself in a position to correct these inequities.

9 Responses to “Women and the “ambition gap””

  1. Becky Says:

    I negotiated fervently in my career, and I always made less than the men who were in comparable positions. I actually had a boss tell me that I didn’t need to make as much the men who had children and wives to support since I was married and childless. What?! Wish I had gotten that on tape, but then again, you never get another job after taking any kind of legal action. What’s a dame to do? We have made progress, but not enough. I am very concerned about the next generation letting a lot of that slide back into the abyss,

  2. Hattie Says:

    The subtext is that we have fewer needs than men.

  3. JustMeMike Says:

    In a series called Dinner, currently airing in prime time – Sundays at 9:00 PM – in Japan, a related subject came up. Among the main cook staff in this particular high end Italian restaurant, there was only one woman chef. Her domain was the risottos.

    But she came under discussion for a matter unrelated to this topic, and it came out that she felt she was a victim of gender bias. That women were never promoted to top chef positions. And that they earned less.

    The response she got was that women only take the jobs as professionals in kitchens as a training ground for running a household, ie – learning to cook for their husbands and future families.

    We were told that this is standard for Japan. But this woman chef set out to earn her stripes anyway. We are later told – that the only way to earn your stripes as a professional chef is to excel.

    In this case, we are led to admire this female chef, and be angry at the male chefs. However it also seems that this is the same uphill struggle that is the topic for Didion’s post.

    Kudos to this series, Dinner, for addressing the topic in what is clearly a pro-woman stance.

  4. […] The post of the day is from Feminéma, on salaries and negotiation, very […]

  5. […] * The Ambition Gap: When researchers have studied the ambition gap, they’ve discovered something peculiar: It’s not there. Women do ask for more. They just aren’t rewarded for it. Via Feminéma. […]

  6. T. Jefferson Says:

    Social science is undermining the myth that women are paid only $0.76 for every $1.00 that a man earns.


    “The O’Neills conclude that “the factors underlying the gender gap in pay primarily reflect choices made by men and women, given their different roles in the family, rather than labor market discrimination against women due to their sex.”

    Women frequently choose jobs that enable them to combine work and family. Many choose part-time work, with flexible hours, in the non-profit sector, that pays less.

    When they choose the same work, they are paid the same. The most remarkable finding in the book is in Table 8-14, which shows that in a comparison of unmarried and childless men and women, women actually earn more — 108 cents on a man’s dollar.”

    The real issues going forward will not be men v. women, but young v. old. The lack of real opportunity for the millennial generation is going to have repercussions for decades. The delays in entering the workforce, in obtaining full time jobs, in advancing careers, in forming families, and giving birth to the next generation mean a dimmer future for them and those who will depend upon them.

    When I recall that the youth are the keepers of revolutionary energy, I tremble for the political future.

    • Didion Says:

      This is interesting. I hadn’t heard of this book — indeed, it’s received extremely limited reviews, and none that I can find among social science journals. I think to say that “social science is undermining” the points made in the Atlantic article is a bit of a whopper — I mean, at best we can say that social scientists disagree. But in looking at the overall landscape, I suspect that this book merely amounts to a conservative vanity piece designed to question feminist interest in equity.

      There are good reasons to be skeptical of the findings in this book by the O’Neills. The American Enterprise Institute Press, which published the book and has funded the O’Neills for years, is an institution dedicated to protecting the unrestrained free market. That is, this is not the usual kind of social science publication, subjected to double-blind review and scrutiny by the wider community of scholars. This is a press that publishes material that promotes the interests of free enterprise.

      Likewise, the Washington Times (which reviewed the book) is a deeply conservative organ; and Diana Furchtgott-Roth, the reviewer, is a longtime AEI fellow and mouthpiece for both free enterprise and anti-feminist movements.

      Typically, scholarly journals publish reviews of books as soon as they can — eager to weigh in on big findings. The fact that there’s been nothing but radio silence on this one isn’t a good indication of its value as scholarship.

      And indeed, this is the first time I’ve seen anyone claim that “in a comparison of unmarried and childless men and women, women actually earn more — 108 cents on a man’s dollar.” Far from it. Last year, when one study found very young, single women making as much or more than their young male peers in a limited range of jobs and in specific urban areas, a rash of follow-up studies sought to scrutinize how far that progress extended across the board. Like the O’Neills, these scholars were hopeful that such progress meant a rapid and important change for women’s employment (Hanna Rosin is one of the journalists who cites that one study extensively). But what these follow-up studies showed was that even accounting for those small groups of very successful young women, across the board wage disparities appeared within a single year to women’s disadvantage. The gender wage gap isn’t a myth, nor is it a vestige of older generations.

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