Women Entering the Workforce Expect Less Than Men, Study Finds

May 19, 2011 - News Release

Women have lower career expectations than men, anticipating smaller paycheques and longer waits for promotions, according to a new study involving a University of Guelph researcher.

Comparing career expectations of Canadian university students, Prof. Sean Lyons discovered that women predict their starting salaries to be 14 per cent less than what men forecast. This gap in wage expectations widens over their careers, with women anticipating their earnings to be 18 per cent less than men's after five years on the job.

The study also found women expect to wait close to two months longer than men for their first step up the corporate ladder.

“It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg-situation,” said the business professor, who worked on the study with Carleton University professor Linda Schweitzer and Dalhousie University professor Ed Ng. “Women know that they currently aren’t earning as much as men, so they enter the workforce with that expectation. Because they don’t expect to earn as much, they likely aren’t as aggressive when it comes to negotiating salaries or pay raises and will accept lower-paying jobs than men, which perpetuates the existing inequalities.”

The study, to be published in the journal Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations, involved analyzing survey responses from more than 23,000 Canadian university students about salary and promotion expectations as well as career priorities. The original survey was conducted by three strategic research firms, DECODE, Brainstorm Consulting and Universum.

Uuniversity-educated women earn only 68 per cent of the salaries of equally qualified men, according to a 2008 Canadian Labour Force Survey.

“This study shows that women aren’t blissfully ignorant and know the gender gap exists,” said Lyons.

But the researchers were surprised by the results, considering that the students are part of the “millennial” generation, characterized as more egalitarian.

Lyons said the gender disparity in career expectations partly reflects inflated expectations of young men.

“Overall we found the male students’ expectations are way too high. These results may indicate that women are just more realistic about their salary expectations.”

Gender gaps in salary expectation and career advancement were widest among students planning to enter male-dominated fields such as science and engineering and narrowest for those preparing for female-dominated or neutral fields such as arts and science.

Women’s lower career expectations might also reflect gender difference in career priorities, Lyons said. The study found women were more likely to choose balancing their personal life with their careers and contributing to society as top career priorities. Men preferred priorities associated with higher salaries, such as career advancement and building a sound financial base.

“It may be that women expect to trade off higher salaries for preferences in lifestyle.”

Women’s lower expectations might also reflect their seeking career information from other working women, added Lyons.

“If these students are asking their mothers or other older women for their experiences, they will be getting a reflection of the historical inequality.”

The study found that, despite differing expectations, women and men have equal self-confidence and self-efficacy.

“Our study shows women don’t feel inferior to men and view themselves as every bit as capable as their male counterparts.”

Current strategies to improve workforce equality aim to increase the number of women in male-dominated fields.

However, Lyons said post-secondary students need to receive accurate salary information before they begin working.

“Professors and career counsellors should make it a priority to provide students with accurate information regarding actual salaries and expected promotion rates for university graduates in their field,” he said. “Awareness is essential to empowering these young women to think differently about the way they value themselves relative to their male colleagues.”

Prof. Sean Lyon
Department of Business
University of Guelph
519-824-4120, Ext. 58500

Prof. Linda Schweitzer
Sprott School of Business
Carleton University

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, lhunt@uoguelph.ca, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982, dhealey@uoguelph.ca.

University of Guelph
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Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1