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Webinar: Gender Disparities in Career Expectations

Women have lower career expectations than men. They expect lower salaries and longer periods between promotions than their male counterparts according to a new study from business professors Linda Schweitzer, Ed Ng and Sean Lyons of Carleton Universi

Women have lower career expectations than men. They expect lower salaries and longer periods between promotions than their male counterparts according to a new study from business professors Linda Schweitzer, Ed Ng and Sean Lyons of Carleton University, Dalhousie University and University of Guelph respectively. When comparing starting salary expectations of Canadian female and male university students, they found that women predict their starting salaries to be 14% less than did men. This expected wage gap widens over the course of their careers with women anticipating their earnings to be 18% less than men after five years on the job. Women also expected to wait about two months longer than men for their first step up the corporate ladder.


These findings were for 23,000 Canadian college students pursuing majors in a variety of fields. Gender gaps in expectations of salaries and promotions were greatest among students planning to enter the male-dominated fields of science and engineering.


ACS survey findings


These findings are generally consistent with the results of the latest American Chemical Society Starting Salary Survey ( Newly graduated women received lower median salaries than for men at the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels. The annual salary difference in favor of men was $3,500 at the bachelor’s level and $13,500 at the master’s level. The trend reversed itself for Ph.D.s with women receiving $2,700 more than their male counterparts. "It's a bit of a chicken-and-egg-situation," said Sean Lyons. "Women know that they currently aren't earning as much as men so they enter the workforce with that expectation. Because they don't expect to earn as much, they likely aren't as aggressive when it comes to negotiating salaries or pay raises and will accept lower-paying jobs than men, which perpetuates the existing inequalities."


"This study shows that women aren't blissfully ignorant and know the gender gap exists," observed Lyons. He suggested that the difference in salary and promotion expectations may reflect inflated career expectations of young men. "Overall we found the male students' expectations are way too high. These results may indicate that women are just more realistic about their salary expectations."


Reasons for the gaps


Are there reasons other than discrimination that can explain these salary and promotion disparities in starting salaries and initial promotions between the genders?


One factor could be gender differences in career priorities, Lyons said. The study found that women were more likely to choose balancing their personal life with their careers and contributing to society as top career priorities. In contrast men preferred priorities associated with higher salaries and career advancement. "It may be that women expect to trade off higher salaries for preferences in lifestyle." Women's lower expectations might also reflect historical inequities often related to them by older women in their career field.


Despite these different career expectations, the study found women and men have the same levels of self confidence and sense of competency. "Our study shows women don't feel inferior to men and view themselves as every bit as capable as their male counterparts," Lyons said.


The manager’s role


If course it’s up to lab managers to offer equal starting salaries combined with equitable raises and promotions to their men and women staff members. Other things being equal, it is possible that women may in general accomplish less over the course of a career based on their placing a greater emphasis on balancing their personal and professional lives. Women are usually still the primary caregivers for their children and for elderly parents. Few men take paternity leaves that last as long as their spouse’s maternity leaves. Nevertheless, decisions regarding raises and promotions must be made on an individual basis considering only each employee’s contributions and not on generalities about salaries and promotions for the two genders.


It was a long time ago but I still remember one manager telling me my contribution was greater than a colleague’s but he received a larger raise because he had a family to support. Another time a woman staff member came to me for advice. Our manager told her that because he was a husband and the primary financial support for his family, the guy had received a larger raise than she had despite her superior performance. The only consideration in these and other cases should be the individual’s contributions, not their personal or financial circumstances.


Given the greater frequency of two-career couples today, one would expect that more males would be strong proponents for fair and equitable treatment of their female coworkers.



John K. Borchardt

Dr. Borchardt is a consultant and technical writer. The author of the book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers,” he writes often on career-related subjects.