It is a well-known fact that gender discrimination in the workplace still exists. Although the inequalities are less today than ever before, the problem has not gone away. The White House reports that as recently as 2010, women made only 77 cents to the dollar earned by men. And this phenomenon is not only in the United States, but around the world. Even countries Americans perceive to be more liberal, such as those in Europe, face the same issues. The Office for National Statistics stated that in the last four decades, females in the United Kingdom still earn less money than the males.
A recent study by the London Business School proposed that that female social entrepreneurs in the United Kingdom actually chose to pay themselves 29 percent less than their male counterparts. While most of us are used to seeing similar headlines about the pay gap, what's surprising about this particular one is that the pay disparity was suggested to be voluntary. While feminists around the world are striving to achieve fair pay for both sexes, this study proposed that some women purposely paid themselves less than their male counterparts.
This research, conducted by Saul Estrin, researcher and visiting professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the London Business School, suggests these findings point to a global issue that impacts females in every profession around the world. Estrin believes discrimination can no longer explain the gender pay gap if women are choosing their salaries, like the ones in this study. He provides two main reasons for the voluntary pay inequality, which are job satisfaction and risk aversion.
The researcher believes that since female social entrepreneurs are connected to the social cause, they find greater satisfaction in their careers by achieving large-scale social change than men do. Basically, Estrin suggests that women are satisfied with making less money as long as they are happy at their job. Men, on the other hand, are not content with mere job satisfaction and still strive for a higher paycheck.
While this is a worthwhile supposition, could it be truly applied as a universal answer to pay disparity among the sexes? This explanation does not account for women who are not satisfied with their jobs but still make less than men. After all, there are plenty of female business owners and employees who are not making positive impacts on their surroundings through social causes, like the subjects of this study, but who still make less money. Unfortunately not enough studies have looked at job satisfaction and how it affects the gender pay gap to provide clear answers.
As heads of the social enterprises, the females' and males' salaries obviously depend on the success of the businesses. Due to this, the researcher proposed that female-owned enterprises may be smaller and designed that way by women according to their inherent preferences for risk aversion and other factors. And, since women factor in business size, growth and profit into their salaries to a greater extent than men, according to Estrin, that also explains the pay disparity.
He notes that these findings are consistent with the paradox of the "contented female business owner," which was first proposed by Gary Powell and Kimberly Eddleston when they surveyed 201 business owners in the United States. The researchers found that "the female business owners reported that their firms were less successful than rivals', in terms of traditional measures, such as growth and profit," as reported by Research Digest. "And yet, the female owners reported being just as satisfied with their business success as the men."
While the findings from the aforementioned studies seem to paint one picture, it is important to keep in mind that other factors could be at play. For example, could it be that the main problem was not that the women were afraid to take risks in business, but that the market discriminates against female-run social enterprises? This could prevent women from obtaining as much financial support, backing or partnerships as their male counterparts. This could be a likely explanation for why their companies showed less growth and profit, which, in turn, resulted in less pay.
It is not likely that the results of this study on a particular sample of social entrepreneurs in the United Kingdom can be applied to women of all professions throughout the world. Some may choose to pay themselves less than men, because they are conditioned to it or because they want to put more back into their companies. Others may not be able to obtain enough financial support to receive a salary equal to their male counterparts.
It may be premature to suppose that women don't strive as hard to make a paycheck as males do, and that discrimination is not in play in pay disparities among the genders. If a survey were done on women around the world, most likely, results would indicate that females want to make as much, if not more, than their male colleagues. However, with no such study in our foreseeable future, it is impossible to answer the question "do women choose to make less than men?" with the results of this, or any current study. The answers to this question are complex and will likely vary with each woman you speak to, her circumstances, opportunities and career objectives.
Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs, a niche job board for public relations, communications and social media jobs. Hoojobs was voted as a Top Career website by Forbes. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues and is chief editor of the HooHireWire -- The Hoojobs Guide to Hiring & Getting Hired.
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