By Melissa J. Anderson

Last month Catalyst’s President and CEO Ilene Lang addressed roughly 2,000 women at Deutsche Bank’s Women on Wall Street event, regarding the organization’s latest report “The Myth of the Ideal Worker: Does Doing All the Right Things Really Get Women Ahead?

The report addresses the effectiveness of a number of career strategies – and while men seem to come out ahead no matter what career strategies they employ, women did benefit significantly from talking up their accomplishments.

Surprisingly, the report showed that although there is plenty of discussion around women “not asking” or women “waiting to be rewarded” for their work, in fact, women are negotiating.

She said, “Women and men negotiate the same. Women are less likely to negotiate compensation in their first job, but after that they learn from that.”

What is it about corporate culture that prevents women from getting as far as men when it comes to asking for more?

Women Do Ask

The Catalyst study showed that women are negotiating at nearly the same rate as men. According to the report, “47% of women and 52% of men reported they had countered during the hiring process by asking for a higher salary.” Similarly, “14% of women and 15% of men had countered by asking for a position at a higher job level.”

This is similar to recent Accenture research on the same topic.

Accenture’s study, “Reinvent Opportunity: Looking Through a New Lens,” [PDF] consisted of a survey of 3,400 business executives across 29 countries. According to the report, released in March of this year, women are only slightly less likely than men to have asked for pay raises (44% versus 48%). Somewhat similarly, 28% of women had asked for a promotion compared to 39% of men.

In fact, both Accenture’s and Catalyst’s research showed women more engaged in career development work. Accenture’s study showed that 59% of women considered developing knowledge and skill set’s a career objective, compared with 57% of men. Eighteen percent of women said they planned to go back to school while only 11% of men said the same.

Catalyst’s research revealed that that women were also more likely than men to ask about other kinds of opportunities too. “Women were more likely than men to ask for a variety of skill-building experiences, to proactively seek training opportunities, and to make achievements visible, including asking for feedback and promotions.”

The research implies that women have to ask to find out about these opportunities, whereas men are told without asking. This hearkens back to sponsorship research, whereby men have an easier time than women gaining access to networks of power and jobs that might not be advertised.

Recognition and Sponsorship

Why aren’t women getting as far as men in the compensation and promotion game, when they are negotiating at almost the same rate and working harder to advance their careers? The answer may have something to do with expectations.

As Lang pointed out at WOWS, in many ways women are lagging behind men “really because women are paid and rewarded for performance…. while men are paid and rewarded on potential.”

The Catalyst report explains:

“Maybe it’s not that women don’t ask, but that men don’t have to? While it’s undoubtedly helpful for women to know that increasing the visibility of their accomplishments can lead to greater advancement and compensation growth, it begs the question: why don’t men have to do the same? Are men being rewarded without even having to ask? Do women have to raise their hands and seek recognition to an even greater extent than men do to receive the same outcomes?”

While women had to work hard to make sure everyone knew the value of their contributions to get ahead, men didn’t – either they had institutional connections or didn’t face the same doubts as women about performance. Lang said, “Men didn’t have to make their accomplishments known. Somehow they were divined or assumed.”

The research shows the importance of making sure everyone is on the same playing field when it comes to recognition and opportunities – and that means making sure women have access to the same networks of power as men. Benchmarked corporate sponsorship initiatives as well as programs generating awareness around the importance of sponsorship can level this playing field.

But work must also be done to change the gendered culture around self-aggrandizement so that women are able to speak up about their accomplishments as much as men without fear of being accused of bragging.