Wage discrimination starts with recruitment

Conscious or unconscious wage discrimination is the case, if wage differences cannot be explained plausibly using appropriate criteria. Although wage discrimination can occur over the course of a career, it often starts with the recruitment of new employees. Distorted perceptions of recruits and wage negotiations play an important role in this process.

Nowadays, in companies with more than 100 employees, the wages of men and women for have to be reviewed for gender equality. The reason for this is that although approximately 60% of the wage differences can be explained from an economic point of view, gender discrimination is suspected to occur in the rest.
To check wages, the federal government provides the companies with the standard analysis model “Logib”, which is free of charge. This takes into account the level of training, years of service and potential years of employment, the requirement level of the activity performed and the hierarchical levels as factors for legitimate wage differentials – data that most companies know about their employees.
If wage divergence cannot be explained plausibly on the basis of these or any other criteria, the assumption remains that there may be deliberate or much more often unconscious wage discrimination. The question of how and why it does arise comes up.

Same behaviour, different perceptions
Women and men are subject to different role expectations in our society. These are among other things shaped by historical and cultural norms. The role expectations make that the same behaviour is perceived differently during the recruiting process.
Impressive experiments, e.g. at Yale University 2013, showed that identical CVs and linguistically identical interview responses led to a worse assessment of women. If a woman communicates directly, she appears aggressive to us. In a man, we perceive the same behaviour as assertive. Competences and resilience are unconsciously questioned more often while talking to a woman than a man. Especially women re-entering the labour market have even more pointed experiences here. Generally, they are even believed to be less capable.
We are all subject to these distortions of perception (so-called Unconscious Bias), which we are not really aware of. When it comes to assessing CVs and interviews, managers and HR people are therefore challenged to be reflective. Otherwise a stereotype (“women with small children are not career-oriented”) quickly turns into discrimination (“women with small children are not hired for demanding management positions”). A result of such unconscious bias can also be seen in lower starting salaries.
In addition, there is the stereotypical image of the “breadwinner” and the “supporting earner”, which even the young generation has still internalised. As a study by Andrea Maihofer on the career choice of young people in Switzerland in 2014 showed, these role models continue to contribute to wage differences and unequal employment conditions. Since women also have this image of themselves, they are often less consistent in wage negotiations. The accusation that women themselves are to blame for low wage offers seems therefore justified.

Poor wage negotiations
In fact, a recent study by Universum from 2018 shows that male graduates demand higher wages than their female counterparts. In terms of gender norms, women are often expected to be sympathetic and altruistic.¹
If women then stand up for themselves, they develop a feeling that they do not conform to gender norms and contribute to worse career prospects, which is why they prefer not to negotiate payment. Hannah Riley Bowles of Harvard University has used experiments to prove that superiors automatically perceive a woman who wants a higher salary as less likeable and her demands as exaggerated.²
It’s a balancing act how determinedly and emphatically women should negotiate their salary. It is at least positive to note that young women are more successful in wage negotiations than older women are. Women under the age of 40 can achieve the same wage increases as their male counterparts.³.
In addition, a study by Harvard Kennedy School shows that the pay gap between male and female candidates is narrowing when they know the wage bands. So, when there is transparency and the scope for negotiation is known, women and men achieve similar results in wage negotiations.

Executive School Programmes:
Open Programmes

Women Back to Business

The management programme for women on the move.

Transparency and awareness-raising
Professional and de-biased recruitment processes can mitigate Unconscious Bias. Clear and comprehensible requirements, separated into mandatory and nice-to-have criteria, are a first step. Mixed selection committees and Unconscious Bias Training also provide support concerning the respective matter.
The easiest and most cost-effective way is to change your own perspective. “Would this wage claim also have irritated me in case of a man?”, or “Would I have offered a man with the same skills and experience the same wage as the female applicant?” or “Would I have offered a young father the same wage as the young mother?”. These and similar questions help to track down our own distortions of perception and to guarantee equal wages right from the start of a career.

The University of St.Gallen offers an extended wage analysis. You can find further information here.

– ¹ Sandberg, 2013.
– ² Hannah Riley Bowles, 2014.
– ³ Artz, Goodall & Oswald, 2016


This article was also published on hrtoday.ch


Picture from Pixabay

About the author
Prof. Dr. Gudrun Sander Prof. Dr. Gudrun Sander has been working for equal opportunities, the advancement of women and inclusion for more than 25 years. She is a titular professor, Director of the Competence Centre for Diversity and Inclusion and Co-Director of the Research Institute for International Management at the University of St. Gallen. With her team of 30 employees, she supports organisations on their way to more equal opportunities.