Is Fear Standing in Your Way to Higher Pay?

Fear holds a lot of women back from making the money they deserve. Fear of negotiating, fear of employers perceiving them as too aggressive, fear of seeking compensation for their time and expertise as well as their work. Barbara Stanny confronted these fears in her book Secrets of Six-Figure Women.  Now writer Kristin Wong revisits Stanny’s groundbreaking work, and finds that, “Often enough, the only things standing in the way of financial progress are our own limiting beliefs about money.” Are these roadblocks holding you back financially?

Tolerating low pay

Whereas “high earners make darn sure they’re well compensated for their time and work,” Stanny writes, “it rarely dawns on (or appeals to) an underearner to set her sights on a higher salary.” Earning less tends to lead women to expect less, so they don’t ask for a higher salary, according to Stanny. Underearners are ‘so tolerant of earning less that they don’t even consider money as part of the equation.’

Women may be susceptible to tolerating low pay because they are “socialized to be in support roles,” says Alice Stuhlmacher, a psychologist and researcher at DePaul University. Women know that employers view assertiveness in women negatively, and that knowledge bolters women’s willingness to accept low pay.

Underestimating Their Value  

Stanny says women underestimate the value of their work. That suggestion is backed up by a 2012 study published in Basic and Applied Social Psychology that demonstrated a tendency for women to devalue themselves based on their societal role. Psychologists call this the “depressed entitlement effect,” Women in the study paid themselves less than men for the same work. They measure the value of their work against knowing that they receive lower pay than men.

Employers are the one who can alter this dynamic, although women can speak up for change. “Transparency about opportunities removes obstacles for women’s pay,” Stuhlmacher says. “It normalizes asking for resources and reduces backlash for assertive behavior.”

Giving It Away for Free

Stanny suggests that women continue to give away their work for free long after their unpaid internships earn them a foot in the door of the workplace. “Underearners regularly give away their time, knowledge, and skills for nothing,” Stanny writes. “They’ll work at no charge without thinking twice. Most of the time, it’s so ingrained they aren’t even conscious they’re doing it.”

High earners expect compensation not only for their work but also for their time and expertise. Whether it’s overtime or speaking at an event, they expect to be paid.

Failing to Negotiate

Women know they face a social penalty when they try to negotiate, and so they tend to avoid negotiation altogether. People tend to associate negotiation with masculine characteristics like confidence, dominance, and assertiveness,” Stuhlmacher says. “But when women act in these assertive ways, they might be disliked and face backlash because this behavior does not fit societal expectations for women.”

Stanny writes, “underearners are reluctant to ask for more. Underearners hold back simply because they’re too scared.” But, negotiating is necessary. “It’s hard for most women in all income brackets to demand more. High earners might not like it (and they rarely do), but they do it,” Stanny writes. “That’s how these six-figure women got where they are. They do what they are afraid to do.”

Read More: Why You’re Not Making Enough Money


Linda Parham

Linda Parham is a journalist and writer who enjoys creating entertaining blogs. She started out as a newspaper reporter before moving on to editing magazines and newsletters. Linda specializes in writing about beauty, health, fitness, business and politics.

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