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Nasty women earn more money (but it isn’t all roses) 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017
posted by Douglas Keene

We have written a lot about how women are treated unequally (which can, sometimes, make it hard to be a woman). Initially, we illustrated these posts with various photos of Tammy Wynette but we decided to stop picking on her for one song (“Stand By Your Man”). So this post illustrates a rough truth (that still exists today) and we are illustrating it with an ironic cross-stitch project.

Researchers wondered if being agreeable (aka ‘nice’) versus being disagreeable (aka ‘nasty’) would make a difference in salary treatment for either men or women. (You know how this works out already.) We should note that the study (using 375 men and women randomly drawn from 1,390 employees) only sampled one company. So, it may not be entirely generalizable. Mmm-hmm—we’ve blogged about this issue before and that study had the same results.

For those that want to know these things, the researchers looked at both objective (e.g., tenure, education, performance reviews) and subjective (e.g., how the individual perceived the fit between their education, experience and performance with their income and professional rank). They also used several research measures for dominance and agreeableness. The researchers compared the objective and subjective data with actual income and promotion statistics within the company.

Let’s just cut to the chase (and you may hum Tammy’s musical lament as you read) and spell this out for you courtesy of a nice summary over at Science Daily.

Dominant and assertive woman (aka nasty) who clearly express their expectations and do not retreat from their demands, are compensated better than their more accommodating (aka nice) female peers.

The same goes for dominant men versus their more conciliatory male counterparts — (wait for it) but even dominant women earn far less than all of their male colleagues, dominant or otherwise.

So, be a dominant and assertive female (aka ‘nasty’ among other things) and you will earn more than your less assertive female colleagues, but the most milquetoast of men will still out-earn you based on nothing but gender. The researchers said something else that was somewhat shocking:

The nice women we polled in our study even believed they were earning more than they deserved. This blew our minds. The data show 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. [In comparison, nearly everyone else—nasty women, nice men, and nasty men reported they felt dissatisfied with their compensation.]

From a law office management perspective, this research has much to say about equity, understanding gender bias and gender differences, and how to evaluate, compensate, motivate and retain attorney-associates. The researchers suggest organizational management strategies (thankfully) as follows:

Design evaluation and compensation systems so they are structured and based on objective data (and less dependent on negotiation skills). This may actually help you retain and motivate employees of both genders with varying levels of experience.

Consider being more transparent about compensation so that employees (the nice, the nasty, the male, the female) know what will need to be done to progress in status and compensation within your organization.

Perhaps the most important takeaway from this article is that ‘nasty’ women who complain they are not being treated fairly may very well be accurately assessing their situation. There have been many articles on the exodus of female attorneys from law firms. The ABA Journal, Law Practice Today, law.com, the Washington Post, researchers from Stanford University, and countless blogs have written about the issues. The two recommendations from these researchers (indented above) may well help you staunch that (out)flow when it comes to your individual organization.

Biron, M., De Reuver, R., & Toker, S. (2015). All employees are equal, but some are more equal than others: dominance, agreeableness, and status inconsistency among men and women European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 25 (3), 430-446 DOI: 10.1080/1359432X.2015.1111338

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