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Jan Hills

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Evidence-based agony aunt: should I leave because my male colleagues are paid more?


Our evidence-based agony aunt, Jan Hills, uses findings from neuroscience and psychology to tell you how to solve your organisational problems in brain-savvy ways, that work with the mind’s natural tendecies and not against it. Got a problem you want her to look at it? Drop us a line at [email protected]. We’ll get back quickly.


“Should I stay or should I go? This is what is continually going through my mind. At a graduate drinks evening I found out several of my male colleagues are earning more than me!

We are all 2 years in and on the same graduate rotation scheme. I thought equal pay was the law? Since joining there have been 2 pay reviews and whilst there is a degree of personal performance I have had great feedback and ratings.

I can’t understand why they are paid more.”


The wage gap starts early. As you seem to have discovered!

In a recent article in HRZone the figure of 9.4% was quoted. In order to get paid what you are worth it’s essential to speak up and negotiate effectively. But that can be tough. Research by McKinsey and LeanIn.Org found that women who negotiate for a promotion or compensation increase are 30% more likely than men who negotiate to receive feedback that they are “bossy,” “too aggressive,” or “intimidating.”

This is backed up by many psychological studies that show we expect men to be assertive and look out for themselves, so there’s little downside when they stand up on their own behalf. In contrast, we expect women to be communal and collaborative, so when they stand up for themselves, we—both men and women—often react poorly.

However, other research at Columbia University has shown that women are better at negotiating strategically thus getting long term outcomes, not just short term gains.

You won’t get what you don’t ask for, so make it a rule to ask.

One way to combat the stereotypes is carefully plan your language; women get better results when they emphasize a concern for relationships. For example, you might say, “As part of the graduate group I do my best to contribute to its success. It’s important that my salary reflects the education and skills that will enable me to do this.”

Another way to demonstrate a connection to others is to ground the language in gender pay issues: “Given that women are generally paid less than men, we would both be disappointed if I didn’t negotiate for myself.”

Good luck!

We are currently doing research for a new book about how woman can be successful in work despite ongoing gender bias. We use an understanding of neuroscience to provide tips, tools and the latest science on gender and success at work. As part of the research for our book we are conducting a survey of gender based work experience. If you would like to take part or would like to share your views please go to our survey.

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Jan Hills


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