By Piyali Syam, Blog Editor – Google Author

Jill Abramson

“Ask and you shall receive,” or so the old saying goes. “To receive” is a passive verb, while “to ask” is an active verb, so the idea seems logical enough. But the proposition doesn’t always hold true, especially for women. According to a recent study by Carnegie Mellon economists, the problem of the gender pay gap is partially self-created. Women could earn as much as men—if they only asked. Professor Linda Babcock affirms that men are four times more likely than women to ask for a raise. This initial fear of asking for higher pay negatively impacts the trajectory a woman’s working life, causing her successive salary offers to be correspondingly lower. Why would women intentionally hold back from demanding equal pay for equal work? The answer lies in societal stereotypes of acceptable ‘feminine’ behavior. Women are afraid that being assertive may lead their employers to view them as aggressive, and that projecting this image could backfire. Indeed, the recent controversy over editor Jill Abramson’s firing from The New York Times seems only to support this fear.

This puts women in a tricky, and unfair position; not only are they explicitly denied the same pay as their male counterparts, but they also feel implicitly stifled from speaking up in the first place. If women’s ideas of femininity and proper behavior subconsciously affect their professional lives, the effect on their personal lives is magnified, especially in a romantic relationship, where traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity are especially influential to power dynamics. Women may be hesitant to upset the delicate balance of the relationship, and keen to preserve this, may suppress their own desires for the sake of harmony.

So what are some strategies women can try to use within these confines of societal stereotypes? As in all conflict resolution, language is key. Using precise, carefully worded statements that emphasize harmony and togetherness, such as “we,” and speaking in terms of how your requests affect the relationship as a whole is much more likely to lead to a productive conversation than breaching the topic with antagonism or accusation. Remember that a relationship is a partnership, and if one member feels afraid to speak up, the relationship becomes inherently unequal. While what you say is important, how you say it is pivotal to how your message will be received. Communication is important, but be sure to broach the topic with confidence. If you don’t believe that your voice matters, neither will your partner.

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