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Women’s expectations in the workplace may play critical role in how they are treated at work

Canadian women starting their careers still expect to earn considerably less than men, wait longer then men for promotions, and have lower salaries after five years of working, according to a soon-to-be-released study. This despite the fact that some believe we are reaching the point of equality in the workplace. Why is this happening? Why do women still have these expectations?

The study analyzed 23,000 Canadian university students’ responses to career-related questions. Among it’s key findings, young women expect:

  • An average initial salary 13.5 percent lower than young men for equivalent jobs
  • To wait 12 percent longer to get their first promotion
  • Salaries after five years of working that are 17.5 percent less than men anticipate

This is unsettling. Even the researchers were surprised. They concluded that the gap in salary expectations appears not to have closed at all.

However, these expectations are in line with reality, as I noted previously here, here, here and here. Simply put, there is a corresponding significant gap in actual earnings.

Why is this still happening? The mere reaction to the study findings should be a strong indicator that something is not right.

Here’s a potential clue: another interesting finding was that the gender gap in pre-career salary expectations was greatest in traditionally male-dominated fields. So, too, are the actual earnings gaps in these fields. The researchers suggested that, though young women are entering male-dominated fields in greater numbers, this does not automatically lead to more equality for women in the labour market.

Why? Women form their expectations based on historical gender-role stereotyping and discrimination present in the labour market.

Could this be why they preferred “beta” career priorities (things like work-life balance leading to lower salaries) compared to men who preferred “alpha” career priorities (things such as quick advancement and building a sound financial base)?

After synthesizing the results, the researchers suggested:

  • Educators and career counsellors should continue to encourage young women to pursue careers that have been traditionally dominated by men
  • Government programs should continue to address the under-representation of women in male-dominated fields
  • Women in senior positions should try to act as role models for young women to show it is possible to break into male-dominated fields and senior management, and provide access to important networks
  • Women should ask themselves whether they want to make a trade-off between salary and work-life balance
  • Women must be firm when negotiating and demanding what their male counterparts are expecting

This study and its resulting suggestions reminds me of a book I read (a few times) by Lois Frankel, titled, Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office 101: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make that Sabotage Their Careers.

This is one of my favourite books. It is premised upon the notion that women have internalized some traditional values and beliefs concerning their roles in society that hold them back in their careers.

As a result, women unconsciously make some significant mistakes, particularly in these ways:

  • How you play the game
  • How you act
  • How you think
  • How you brand and market yourself
  • How you sound
  • How you look
  • How you respond

(These categories correspond to the book’s chapters.)

Altogether, there are 101 mistakes listed in the book. Highly recommended.

What do you think? Do you believe that the root of the problem involves historical gender-role stereotyping and discrimination that finds its way into the labour market? Could this be why women continue to have both lower expectations and lower earnings then men?

Christina Catenacci
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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2 thoughts on “Women’s expectations in the workplace may play critical role in how they are treated at work
  • Thanks for your comment Benoit. I think the closest thing to what your are seeking would be the objective comparisons on actual earnings – they clearly show significant differences and an unquestionable and persistent wage gap between men and women. Take a look at the four links I provided for this information. That said, these are averages – I am glad to hear that it is not happening everywhere!


  • Benoit Roussy says:

    I would like to see an objective on the same jobs. Not so-called equivalent but actual same jobs rather than studies on perceived realities. I hire people in my admittedly very small business and don’t base the salaries on gender. In fact right now, the women make more than the men. My colleagues in my field are 50/50 and salaries are the same for women and men. I am sure that this is probably a recent phenomenon and probably only applies to those of the last generation or so entering the labourforce. Women in ther 50’s or older would be a different story due to past trends. We should all be equal but shouldn’t discourage students into thinking they don’t have that equality right now.