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New Research: Men Promote Men and Women Promote Women

Topics: Data & Research
Image Credit: Pexels / Cytonn Photography

The gender pay gap is well-known. The latest study from PayScale found that women make 77.9 cents for every dollar earned by men.

In this study, we explored how career progressions and taking time off factor into the gender pay gap. One thing we found is that the gender pay gap widens over the course of workers’ careers.

Our data shows that at the start of their careers, men and women tend to work at similar job levels, most often entering the workforce at the individual contributor level. Yet, over the course of their career, men move into higher level roles at significantly higher rates than women.

By mid career, men are 70 percent more likely to be in executive roles than women. By late career, men are 142 percent more likely to be in VP or C-suite roles. On the other hand, women are more likely than men to remain in individual contributor positions over the course of their career.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

New Research on the Promotion Gap

Our findings suggest that women are not promoted at the same rate as men.

Fairygodboss, the leader career community for women, recently partnered up with the Female Quotient and Progyny to get a better understanding of the key differences between men and women when it comes to work and home life. They surveyed 400 participants, and found something quite interesting that confirms what our study suggested: Men and women aren’t promoted by the same people at work.

This study found that men are more likely to be promoted by men, and women are more likely to be promoted by women.



This behavior or inclination for managers to promote those who are “similar” to themselves is perpetuating the gender pay gap.

Given that the majority of decision-makers today are men, and men are more likely to promote other men, thus creating more male leaders who promote men, it makes sense that the gap in wages between men and women is widening.

There are a few other findings from the study that shine a light on this problem:

  1. Women are less likely to have ever asked for a raise or promotion

The survey asked workers “at any point in your career, have you ever asked for a raise or a promotion?”

67 percent of men said they have asked for a promotion, while only 54 percent of women have asked at any point in their careers. Among those who have asked for a raise, both men and women agreed it’s because they work hard and deserve to be compensated for their work (82 percent and 89 percent respectively).


  1. Women are more likely to say that they’re paid less for doing the same job

55 percent of women said they have found that someone was paid more than them for doing the same job, compared to 49 percent of men.

However, men and women are equally likely to do nothing upon finding out about a salary discrepancy. Doing nothing was the most common reaction stated by workers who answered this question (38 percent of men and 38 percent).

The next most common action workers took when they found out that they didn’t get a raise is to ask for a raise. This is where we see an interesting difference: more men said they asked for a raise (31 percent of men vs. 21 percent of women).  

  1. More men say that their career takes priority because they’re the breadwinner

This survey asked workers if they were in a committed relationship. Workers who said “yes” were then asked “in your relationship, does one person’s career take priority?”

77 percent of men said their own career takes priority, while only 35 percent of women said the same. On the other hand, 65 percent of women answered that their partner’s career takes priority, while only 23 percent of men indicated this answer.

When workers are asked “why does your career take precedent?”, 88 percent of men who answered that their career takes priority said the reason is that they are the breadwinner (vs. 59 percent of women). Seventy-eight percent of women said their partner’s career takes priority because the partner is the breadwinner.


From a financial perspective, it makes sense that the person who is the breadwinner in the couple is the one whose career is prioritized, while the other person’s career is de-emphasized for the sake of the whole family. Yet, this isn’t exactly fair to the partner –more often the female – whose career is stalled.

Taking Time Off Leads to Missed Opportunities for Raises and Promotions

In fact, PayScale has found that there is a significant pay penalty associated with taking time off. In our gender pay gap study, we found that those who were unemployed at the time of receiving a job offer make four percent less than someone who has not recently taken time off, holding all other factors constant. In addition, those unemployed for longer periods face larger penalties: someone who has not worked in over a year experiences a 7.3 percent pay penalty.

We also found that women with a new job offer are more likely than men to be returning from a break in employment. The difference is the greatest between those between the ages of 30 and 44, with women being six percentage points more likely to be returning after a break in employment. Further, returning women are much more likely to have left the workforce to care for a child than returning men (10 percent versus two percent, respectively). For those who have been unemployed for a year or longer, nearly a third of women report that caring for a child was the primary reason for their unemployment, while only four percent of men report the same.

What Can You Do as An Employee To Solve This Problem?

  1. Understand how your pay compares to the market

If you think you may be underpaid, confirm your hunches. Start by understanding how you’re paid compared to those who do similar work in your market. PayScale’s Salary Survey can tell you how your pay compares to others in your market.

  1. If you’re underpaid, do ask for a raise

There’s a right time and place to ask for a raise. But if you’re underpaid, the chances that you’ll receive a raise when you ask are pretty good. PayScale has built a comprehensive set of tools you can use to increase your chances of success when you do negotiate your salary. Our Salary Negotiation Guide covers everything from finding the right time to negotiate, to salary negotiation scripts, to things you can implement to set you apart.

Asking for a raise isn’t just good for you, it’s good for all your co-workers. When you ask for a raise, you’re living out the idea that pay transparency is important. By pushing your company to be more transparent with all employees about how they make compensation decisions, they’ll be prompted to audit their pay practices.

  1. Learn how to negotiate (not just pay raises)

Negotiation is a critical life skill. By improving your chops, you’ll see the benefits in everything from conflict resolution, to dealing with customers, vendors, to asking for a raise or promotion. There are tons of resources, books and articles on how to sharpen your skills, here are just a few I’ve read and found helpful:

  • Getting to Yes By Roger Fisher, William L Ury, and Bruce Patton
  • Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
  • Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz
  1. Find opportunities to develop leadership skills  

You shouldn’t have to leave your job to find chances for growth in your career. In fact, by being strategic in how you show up in your current job, you can find opportunities to step up and be noticed when plum new assignments arrive. At the end of the day, it’s about getting to know your organization, the people you work with, taking initiative, and asking for more. You are ultimately responsible for your own career development.

If you’re into books like me, I’d highly recommend Carla Harris’ Expect to Win: 10 Proven Strategies for Thriving in the Workplace. Carla is an African American female who’s risen to the top echelon of Wall Street. In her book she shares all her “pearls” from her own experience on how you can effectively manage your own career (and life in general).

  1. Amplify other women’s voices

You may have already heard the story of how “amplification” became a useful strategy for Obama’s female staffers to make sure their voices are heard.

When President Obama first took office, the white house wasn’t exactly friendly for female staffers. “If you didn’t come in from the campaign, it was a tough circle to break into,” Anita Dunn, who served as White House communications director until November 2009, told the Washington Post. “Given the makeup of the campaign, there were just more men than women.”

Female staffers, including Susan Rice (the national security adviser), said that they had to fight to be included in important conversations. And even when they’re in the meeting, female staffers were sometimes overlooked. They teamed up and came up with a system to ensure that they were heard:

Female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called “amplification”: When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.

“We just started doing it, and made a purpose of doing it. It was an everyday thing,” said one former Obama aide who requested anonymity to speak frankly. Obama noticed, she and others said, and began calling more often on women and junior aides.

As the Post points out, things did get better for female staffers in Obama’s second term. There was an even gender split among his top aides, and half of all White House departments were headed by women.

By the way, this isn’t just a tip for women. Men can also amplify women’s voices. As a man, you can reiterate an idea a woman just shared and attribute it to her. When you do this, you endorse worthy ideas and ensure the appropriate person is remembered for them.

How You Can Be an Ally in Promoting Women Leaders

  1. Share the research

Talk to others about the research you’ve seen and stories you’ve heard of gender inequality in the workplace. For example, you can share PayScale’s gender pay gap report. Share articles on social media and make the issue part of your public identity.

  1. Champion women: make it easier for women to access opportunities

Take a moment to reflect: did you ever have a mentor who gave great advice that made an impact on your career? Who is this person? How did you two form a relationship? Did you have a champion or sponsor – or someone who raised your profile, helped you develop and advocated for your career?  

There are endless stories from leaders talking about how their mentors and champions have been instrumental in their journey to the executive suite. Most of these are still from men. If you’re in a position where you can champion women, foster their development and introduce them to high profile leaders in your organization, please do it. By doing so, you can can level the playing field and promote women in leadership.

  1. Amplify women’s voices

As mentioned above, by creating an environment where all voices are heard, where women receive credit for their ideas, you can bring about a cultural shift.  

  1. Make it a norm for women to negotiate

We’ve found that women are more likely to not ask for a raise because they are uncomfortable negotiating their salary. Women in the U.S. are often expected to be giving and collaborative, so when they advocate for themselves, we often see them less positively. This social pushback can affect the results of women’s negotiations and their careers.

If you are a leader, you can make sure that the women in your organization feel like negotiating is normal and encouraged rather than a taboo.


Have you found you’re more likely to be promoted by someone of your gender? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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