Women need to learn how to navigate strategically in gender inequality

Whether we like it or not, we still live in a world of gender inequality. Men created the rules in the game of business and the business world continues to be male-dominated. Men have an advantage because, well, they’re men.

Even though much has changed in the workplace, with women making up nearly half of today’s workforce, biases persist and keep women from climbing the ranks in business. In her book Play like a man, win like a woman; author Gail Evans talks about these biases and gives examples of things men can do in business that women can’t.

Men can be aggressive to seize what they want in the workplace - title, prestige and money. Being bold and forceful are signs of their strength and capability. Women who display a similar drive however become “domineering, ruthless, difficult, pushy and argumentative”.

Could this explain why men earn more than women?

In Canada, women still earn less than men - 72 cents for every dollar a man is paid doing the same type of work: full-time, and full-year.2 The gender wage gaps occur across all industries and all education levels. In fact, women with university degrees earned 10-30% less than their male peers, depending on their age cohort3.

Are the persistent gender wage gaps attributed to men’s outward aggressiveness or is it that women simply don’t ask for more money?

I know from my time in corporate, I never negotiated my salary at the beginning of my jobs. Nor did I have the “balls” to ask for a salary raise, after an outstanding performance evaluation. Turns out, I’m not alone. Research has shown that men are four times more likely than women to ask for a raise.4

Now that I have transitioned to the world of entrepreneurship, I hear that women are not asking for what they are worth. They sell themselves short. In corporate as in business, women are intimidated with the notion of negotiating. They prefer to wait to be offered more.

And yet societal backlash prevails…

Gender biases may not serve women who do take proactive steps towards higher salaries. A study conducted by Linda Babcock5 of Carnegie Mellon University illustrated the bargaining impasse women meet when asking for a raise. In her experiment, male and female participants were shown videos of men and women asking for a raise, following the same script. The participants felt that both sexes deserved to get paid more. However, they liked the men’s style and expressed dislike for the women. The participants thought the women were too aggressive and demanding.

Now what?

Confronted with these biases and perceptions, should women put their advancements strategies on hold or accept lower salaries? I say NO. As Gail Evans says, we need to learn how to play by men’s rules. We also need to learn how to navigate strategically through gender inequality (in business) in order to ask effectively for what we need, what we want and what we deserve.

It starts with our vocal and visual cues rather than what we say (verbal). According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s research Silent messages6, the effectiveness of spoken communication, pertaining to emotions and attitudes, is attributed as followed:

  • 7% is in the words that are spoken (content)

  • 38% is in the way the words are spoken (voice quality, intonation, volume, etc.)

  • 55% is in facial expression (posture, face, eye contact, etc.)

The UCLA Professor Emeritus of Psychology found that “our silent messages may contradict what we say in words; in either event, they are more potent in communication that the words we speak” and “others weigh our actions more than our words as they try to understand what we feel”.

By tweaking how women ask for what they want, they can reap the benefits and rewards in a man’s world!


1 Status of Women Fact Sheet: Economic Security

2 Statistics Canada

3 Oxfam Canada and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (Making Women Count report)

4 NPR: Ask For A Raise? Most Women Hesitate

5 Linda Babcock

6 Silent messages: implicit communication of emotions and attitudes

After working 18 years in corporate communications, Andrée Myette teaches professional and entrepreneurial women how to convey themselves with confidence, clarity and credibility so they can ask for what they want and get what they truly deserve. She also helps women who have been victims of abuse to find their voice to regain their power.