Women Still Face A Persistent And Troubling Confidence Gap, Study Reveals

Ellen Pao speaks to members of the media at Civic Center Courthouse in San Francisco, Friday, March 27, 2015. A jury decided
Ellen Pao speaks to members of the media at Civic Center Courthouse in San Francisco, Friday, March 27, 2015. A jury decided Friday that a prestigious venture capital firm did not discriminate or retaliate against Pao in a case that shined a light on gender imbalance and working conditions for women in Silicon Valley. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Women have lower expectations than men when it comes to salary, according to a new study released Wednesday. And that lack of confidence highlights a persistent and stubborn problem for women in the workplace.

Only 33 percent of women believe they’ll earn more than $50,000 in their first job out of college, compared with 48 percent of men, according to the survey conducted online by job site Monster.

Female college students were also less sure about their job prospects. While 27 percent of male students in Monster’s survey said they were “absolutely confident” they would find a job, only 16 percent of women agreed with that statement.

“We didn’t expect to have such a large gap between men and women,” Joanie Courtney, a senior vice president at Monster who led the team that did the survey, told The Huffington Post.

The difference shouldn’t have been too surprising: There’s a lot of research out there documenting women’s confidence problems at work. They’re laid out in this exhaustive Atlantic article on “The Confidence Gap.”

Along with gender discrimination and other obvious barriers to success, the confidence problem is a big reason why there aren’t more women at the top of major companies. It’s also part of the reason women still earn just 77 percent of what their male counterparts make, according to data cited by the White House.

“Success, it turns out, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence,” write authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman for The Atlantic.

Anecdotally, too, we know women undersell themselves. Again and again at work, I’ve seen guys fight for their ideas and advancement while women keep their heads down and plug away, hoping someone notices.

Conducted in April, the Monster survey looked at about 1,500 Americans aged 18-34, split into three categories: current college students, those out of college less than five years and those out longer than five years.

When it comes to the salary expectations, the men surveyed by Monster are probably a little too cocky. As HuffPost reported last week, 41 percent of new college grads from 2014 and 2013 are making $25,000 or less.

Of course, women are often in a Catch-22 when they use harder-edged tactics at work. Sometimes we're penalized for acting more confidently. Still, nothing will change if we don't try, and salary negotiations are one of those arenas where a little cockinesss goes a long way. There’s a big upside to high expectations. If you want to make more money, you need to expect to make more money -- and be unafraid to ask for it.

Studies have shown that men are more likely than women to negotiate for, and receive, higher pay. The higher salary then becomes a benchmark that follows them around for their entire career, Carnegie Mellon economics professor Linda Babcock told NPR last year.

Ellen Pao, the interim CEO at Reddit, is trying to solve the problem by banning salary negotiation outright at her company. Others say that increasing transparency around pay will allow us to navigate around the problem: Once everyone knows what everyone else is making, it's hard to give anyone short shrift.

Still, we’re a long way off from a world in which everyone’s paid fairly without fighting for it. It may feel scary to counter a job offer by asking for money, but it’s one of the most low-risk ways to make more money that you’re going to run into as an adult. Your prospective employer really wants to hire you -- they’re sold! The worst thing that they can do is say no. And, as a colleague points out, if they take back their offer (which is practically unheard of) you probably don’t want to work for them anyway. If they say yes, boom! You’ve increased your lifelong earning potential.

Still afraid to ask for more? Think of it this way: If you’re a woman, you’re just doing your part in eliminating the systemic gender pay gap.