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Being docile at work doesn’t pay, especially for women, study shows

The squeaky wheel gets the salary, Tel Aviv researchers say, but even demanding women still earn less than men

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox women at an Israeli high-tech company (Abir Sultan/Flash90)
Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox women at an Israeli high-tech company (Abir Sultan/Flash90)

If you are a woman and you are nice and agreeable at work, chances are you earn less than both your less-amenable female colleagues and your easygoing male colleagues, a new study has shown.

The new research by the Tel Aviv University, published in The European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, examines status inconsistencies between men and women through the lens of traditional male and female characteristics.

The study found that dominant, assertive women, who clearly express their expectations and do not retreat from their demands, are compensated better than their more accommodating female peers. According to the researchers, the same goes for dominant men versus their more conciliatory male counterparts. Even so, the study found that dominant women earn far less than all of their male colleagues, dominant or otherwise.

The study was conducted by Prof. Sharon Toker of the Tel Aviv University Coller School of Business Management, Dr. Michal Biron of the Department of Business Administration at the University of Haifa, and Dr. Renee De Reuver of the Department of Human Resource studies at Tilburg University in The Netherlands.

For the study, the researchers surveyed 375 men and women at a Dutch multinational electronics company with 1,390 employees. The subjects were selected at random from all 12 of the company departments.

The researchers used both objective and subjective criteria for the study. For objective data, they analyzed tenure, education, and performance data relative to income and promotion statistics. For subjective data, they examined how the individual perceived the fit between their education, experience, and performance on the one hand, and their income and rank on the other.

“We found that women were consistently and objectively status-detracted, which means they invest more of themselves in their jobs than they receive; and are compensated less than their male colleagues across the board,” Dr. Biron said.

“But dominant women were not punished for reflecting such female-incongruent traits as extroversion and assertiveness,” Dr. De Reuver said. “In fact, we found that the more dominant a woman is at work, the less likely she is to be status-detracted. We found a similar pattern among men — the more dominant a man is, the more likely he is to be better compensated. But alarmingly, dominant women were still found to earn less than even the most agreeable men who aren’t promoted.”

In the subjective part of the study, nearly all the employees responded that they felt dissatisfied with their input-compensation ratio, but agreeable and non-dominant women answered that they felt they earned too much.

“This blew our minds,” said Prof. Toker. “The data shows 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.”

The researchers hope to replicate the study in Israel and the US.

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