Why 'Ideal Worker' Women's Careers Fall Behind Men's: Catalyst Study

Why Your Career Is Stalling (When You're Doing Everything Right)

Dear women trying to get ahead in the workplace and blaming yourself for not advancing: It's not you, it's them.

A new study from the nonprofit group Catalyst surveyed over 3,000 MBA graduates and found that even when women employed the strategies of the so-called "ideal worker" -- requesting high-profile assignments, hob-knobbing with the bosses, and clearly communicating their goals -- they still didn't see the same career advancement men did, and their salaries increased at a slower rate.

Researchers identified nine tactics that employees are taught will help them get ahead but found that, for women, only one resulted in an increase in pay. When women made their achievements known (by making sure their managers were aware of their accomplishments and asking for promotions) they saw a salary increase. But the rest of the tools that are supposed to mean making your way up another rung on the corporate ladder? They didn't make any difference.

So is moving to a different company a better option? Again, only for the guys. Women didn't fare nearly as well financially as the men when they changed jobs. Men at their second post-MBA employer earned $13,000 more in their new job, but the women who made a switch saw no change. The study found women were better off staying put, "where they had already proven their worth."

In addition to that news (which you may, understandably, have mixed feelings about), the study claims to debunk a few commonly held beliefs about why exactly women are paid less.

One of those myths is that women choose slower career tracks. Instead, Catalyst found that even among the among the employees most proactive about their careers, only 71 percent of women were content with their rate of promotion, compared to 82 percent of men. The authors pointed to the women's lack of satisfaction as evidence that the women want to get ahead but face external impediments. In other words, it's not you, it's them.

The study also called into question the idea that the gender pay gap is in part women's fault. Previous research has indicated that women are less likely to ask for a raise, hence they're less likely to get one. Last February, NPR reported that men are four times as likely to ask for a raise than women. According to Linda Babcock, the economist interviewed on the subject, women have good reason to be sheepish about asking for more money: When they read the exact same negotiation script as a man, observers reported that the man deserved a raise. The women were thought to deserve one too, but were evaluated as aggressive and liked less.

But the Catalyst study found that there's little discrepancy between the genders in their request for raises. 47 percent of women reported asking for a higher salary during the hiring process, only slightly behind the 52 percent of men who did. The gap was even smaller when it came to job title: 14 percent of women and 15 percent of men said they had asked for a position at a higher job level.

What do you think about these findings? Have they proven true in your career?

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