Is it the culture? Is it men? Or is it women, afraid to ask for what they’re worth? The reality is that it’s a messy combination of all these things. But only one of them can be changed quickly: how women feel about themselves and their value.
The BBC is facing a backlash from female stars over pay after revealing that only a third of its 96 top earners are women and the top seven are all men. 20 wealthy women at the BBC are paid the same as 40 wealthy men. It’s about the millions of women elsewhere who feel uncomfortable about saying: “Can I have a 20% pay rise this year?” This is the internalised pay gap, and it’s everywhere. Or at least anywhere where women in well-paid jobs feel able to have a say. Let’s not even get started on the low-skilled and low-paid who never get the opportunity to negotiate their own pay.
Privately, many women will admit their internal barriers are a problem. And they’ve had enough. In fact there’s an intriguing trend running alongside the BBC pay story. Rapidly gaining momentum over the past 12 months, a new branch of self-help has emerged that calls itself “money mindset mentoring”. It’s aimed at women and is an American trend – of course – but it has an international audience. The term “money mindset” has over 33m results on Google and rising.
This idea is championed by Jen Sincero, author of You Are a Badass at Making Money (yes, this is a real book title), Marie Forleo (“Oprah for the next generation”) and Australia’s Denise Duffield-Thomas (motto: “Get rich, lucky bitch”). I interviewed Sincero recently at an event where the nearly all-female audience was hanging on to her every word. Her books are New York Times bestsellers and have been translated into over 20 languages. Wasn’t she duping women, I asked, by telling them, for example, that they just needed to trust “the law of attraction”? (This is the self-help idea that if you ask the universe nicely for something, it will give it to you.) She slapped me down. This isn’t about wishing on a star, she said, this is about making concrete plans and naming what you want.
Clearly some of these coaches have indeed figured out how to get rich: by getting you to buy their books and courses. But others do seem on a genuine mission. Duffield-Thomas, who has just launched a new online “money bootcamp” for women, quotes a 2016 American Express report about the United States, where 38% of businesses are owned by women: “Women-owned businesses account for 4% of the nation’s revenues, a figure that has not changed in the past 20 years.” Her mission is to change this by helping women to bust through their “money blocks” (“I don’t deserve this”, “I can’t ask for too much”, “I’ll only sabotage myself”).
Such advice, even if it is couched in psychobabble, could be the necessary corrective. Some of these gurus are addressing in simple language what most of us are afraid to admit: a lot of women have subconscious prejudices about what they are entitled to ask for.
In my first job in journalism 20 years ago, I found out a male colleague with similar responsibilities to mine was being paid almost double my salary. “We pay enough to keep you in shoes, don’t we?” was my editor’s response. It was true. I had a lot of great shoes. Although at that particular moment I wished I had been coming in in a pair of old flip-flops. I secured a job offer from a place where I didn’t really want to work but would have gone if I’d had to. They matched the salary immediately.
Yes, yes, yes, I know. No one should have to do this. It should all just be fair and equal. And everyone should get a warm glass of milk before bedtime. But there’s a reason L’Oréal poured millions of advertising dollars into the slogan: “Because you’re worth it”. If most women already thought they were worth it, this wouldn’t need to be said.
Of course there are unconscious biases on both sides of the conversation about pay. One US study by researchers at Harvard and Carnegie Mellon University showed that women were seen as “tough and unlikable” in salary negotiations and judged accordingly. Men were not. If women are judged more harshly for asking for more money, the impact of this particular bias is obvious.
One fascinating aspect to the BBC story is that many of the women in question would not have been negotiating their own salaries. So did their agents (male or female) also internalise ideas about their clients’ worth? Gary Lineker’s agent said that the lower pay was the fault of “female agents” not asking for enough. Although he also said that he would “never buy a house off a woman” because they negotiate too hard. It seems we are all saddled with preconceptions about money and gender that will take years to unravel.
In the meantime, why not risk being disliked? Ask for what you’re worth. Be prepared to demonstrate it. Back it up with examples and counter-offers. There’s no harm in following advice from the likes of Mika Brzezinski, author of Knowing Your Value (and latterly the TV presenter better known for “bleeding from a face-lift”, according to Donald Trump): show your boss what you could do in six months and put a number on it. Don’t talk too much while you’re asking, let them take it in. Never say: “I’m sorry to ask” or “I have childcare issues”. (“No one cares about you and your issues.”)
Transparency and legislation are crucial, of course. And perhaps the playing field will begin to level in the UK when it becomes law – from April 2018 – for companies employing at least 250 workers to publish wage figures. But such measures are slow and will not solve everything. Meanwhile the pay gap will take as much busting from inside as from outside. The message from Sincero, badass money mentor woman, is this: “Uncover what’s holding you back from making money.” Certainly, the culture is. But women are the culture too. Change happens with repeated, individual micro-actions. Or at least that’s how it looks from where I’m standing, looking tough and unlikable in these jewel-encrusted flip-flops.
by Viv Groskop, writer and standup comedian
Source: The Guardian