Looking to lean in, female professors daunted by salary negotiations

In 1982, Cynthia McClintock became the first woman at GW to earn tenure, securing lifetime appointment to her department.

Still, McClintock said she has never tried to negotiate her salary, an approach that experts have increasingly said is vastly different from her male counterparts who are more likely to push for higher wages.

“I’d feel very uncomfortable,” said McClintock, a professor of political science and international affairs. In her multiple positions before arriving at GW, she said she also never negotiated salaries.

At GW, about four out of 10 full-time professors are women after officials worked for decades to close the gender gap. Two decades ago, just a quarter of the full-time faculty were females.

Still, women hold just 14 percent of the University’s 80 endowed professorships, which are higher-paid positions given to top scholars.

Nationally, women make about 77 cents of each dollar earned by their male counterparts, which economic researchers said is partly because female employees are less likely to negotiate for higher salaries, according to a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2012.

As Congress debates an increase to the country’s minimum wage this spring, the Obama administration has stressed how that boost would help women. But the gender pay gap persists among higher-paying positions as well.

Vice President for Human Resources Sabrina Ellis said salaries are determined by a several factors, and a candidate’s gender is not considered.

“GW, like most large employers and most colleges and universities is mindful of pay equity concerns,” Ellis said.

Women in higher education positions are increasingly striving to bring their salaries in line with their male colleagues, including psychology and women’s studies professor Alyssa Zucker

Zucker said she didn’t realize that salary negotiation was an option until a female colleague at GW advised her to take the stand negotiate a salary increase. She said it helped her think differently about having that tough conversation with her bosses.

“I think for many women, just the way girls are socialized is to not be very assertive. There are variations in women on how much they feel comfortable doing that. But I think the basic patterns of gender socialization make it hard,” Zucker said.

Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, said that while men are encouraged to negotiate pay matters, women are still being punished for trying to do the same.

After a female candidate secured a tenure-track position at Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y. this month, the school rescinded its offer after she tried to secure maternity leave and negotiate a salary more in line with the market.

“When women do it, they are not treated as nicely. They can be punished. Therefore, if women negotiate less, I think it’s a learned behavior,” Hartmann said.

Rebecca Schuman, a Slate education reporter who has written about the gender gap in professor pay, said negotiations can be a sticking point for female job applicants, especially in industries such as higher education, where candidates have little to no leverage.

“Women are more inclined to be thought of as difficult if they are assertive,” Schuman said. “When a women is assertive, she is branded as a problem. When a man is assertive, he is an asset.”

When McClintock was first hired in 1975, she remembers walking in on a conversation about football between two male department members. But when they saw her, they stopped short.

“I could see their faces: ‘What are we going to talk to her about?’” she said. Over the last four decades, she said GW has become “lightyears” better at gender equality in the workplace, though she said female professors can still feel forced to chose between striving to make tenure or raise a family.

“Childbearing age correlates with when you have to be working very hard to get tenure in your late 20s and 30s. So for a lot of women in academia, it’s challenging,” McClintock said.

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