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Why Women Work for Less, and How to Change the Pattern

Why Women Work for Less, and How to Change the Pattern

You don’t need to go to six degrees of separation in your network to find a woman whose responsibilities and duties at work don’t align with the pay she receives.

I have been there before personally, and I continue hearing on much-too-frequent occasions how women are asked to do more with no pay bump. What’s even more appalling is not that women are consistently asked to increase their workload for no pay, and not that women even agree and accept such assignments, but that women feel guilt over asking for more.

In what sane developed world should it be acceptable that a person who is exploited feels guilty about asking not only for what they deserve, but what they have rightfully earned? Societal gender norms are still largely prevalent and are the major cause for the stubborn lack of progress toward gender equity in the workforce.

[Related: CEOs and the Importance of Talking About Gender Equity]

I belong to a couple of social and professional platforms, and it's infuriating to see posts where women are asking for advice on:

We recently went through an organizational restructure, I was given a promotion but with no salary adjustment. What do I do?
I was hired as a graphic designer a few years ago, but now graphic design comprises only 10% of my job. I asked for a pay increase but was told the company can't afford it. How do I not feel like I am being taken advantage of?
I have been recognized on numerous occasions by my boss for the value I bring to the organization and the quality of my work. He keeps increasing my responsibilities, but I haven't seen a pay raise to go along with more workload. How do I approach my manager on this subject and not feel greedy?

The script might be different, but the narrative is the same. Too many women are recognized for the work they do because of increased responsibilities and workload, but money doesn't come with it. And how many are too many women? The answer is simple: One is already too many.

There are three options that women have when it comes to how to react to requests of more responsibilities from management. Women teeter-totter between:

  1. Turning down the opportunity and being perceived as unwilling to take on more responsibilities, thus limiting future growth potential.
  2. Taking the workload without the pay, which not only sets precedent that such a practice is acceptable, but also actively volunteers our hard-earned expertise for free while taking away our energy from our home and personal lives.
  3. Confronting the company about the expectations of doing more work for free and risking the chance of social backlash in the form of being perceived as greedy or difficult to work with, resulting in limiting our future growth potential.

None of the options are attractive! It’s going to take both companies and employees working together to make a difference, but make a difference we must.

[Related: Women's Equality Day: The Numbers Matter]

The spotlight in the last few years has been on women getting equitable pay in the workforce. While women need to know how to negotiate on their own behalf, companies need to examine their practices.

Managers and human resources experts need to ensure that expectations are leveled and women aren’t taking on more work for no pay. There are tools available to utilize and ensure that women are treated equitably in the workforce. Yes, it’s hard work. Yes, the finding results might be ugly. Yet, ugly numbers can lead to productive conversations, corrective course actions, and effective solutions being put in place to ensure that women aren’t marginalized.

It’s time to change the narrative. It’s time for companies to stop making it an option to exploit women. Real change can only happen when women feel safe to challenge expectations and companies ensure that expectations are the same for men and women in the workforce.

Women also have options, and they are:

  1. Settling for being overworked, undervalued, and complacent with our lot in life.
  2. Finding the courage to stop the cycle of working too much for too little money, speaking up, and unapologetically asking for what we have earned.

Remember, courage isn’t the absence of fear; it’s proceeding forward regardless of it.

[Related: We Can Reshape the Global Economy for Everyone]


Ruzana Glaeser is a sourcing expert and co-founder of Her passion is women empowerment, negotiations, and relationship management. She thrives on sharing stories and instilling confidence in women to negotiate on their own behalf.

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Community Discussion
Radesha (Desh) Dixon

Great article.

March 23, 2020