A recent paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research reported similar findings. When it was not made explicit that prospective employees could negotiate salary, men were more likely than women to haggle anyway. But once it was made explicit, women drove an even harder bargain than men. Does that reflect an ambition gap or an equal hunger for higher pay?
Another way at the problem is to look at job satisfaction. If women are less ambitious, we'd expect them to be about equally satisfied with their careers as their male colleagues. But Catalyst found that men at all levels are more satisfied with their careers than women. Thirty-seven percent of men were very satisfied, compared to just 30 percent of women. The only place where men and women were equally dissatisfied was at the lowest rungs of a firm.
SAME AMBITION, LESS PAY
What does become clear when researchers look at this problem is that women aren't rewarded for their ambition. Catalyst has spent extensive time evaluating this issue. Its first report followed recent MBA graduates -- the "best and the brightest," in its own terms -- to see how men and women fared.
Women's first jobs out of school were at a lower level than men, and men had higher starting salaries, even when the number of years of experience, time since the MBA, industry, and geography were taken into account. Maybe men just start off more ambitious?
But they don't. The findings held true even among men and women who aspired to the CEO or senior executive level. It also held true for men and women who didn't have children. It's not the mommy track. It's something else.
What's that something else? Is it choice of major? Choice of occupation? Early-life family requirements? It seems not. A recent study from AAUW looked at men and women one year out of college and found a 7% gender earnings gap, even when school selectivity, grades, choice of major, choice of occupation, and hours-worked were taken into account.
Even among extraordinarily ambitious and successful workers of both genders, Catalyst research found a gap. They followed full-time workers who didn't take breaks for education or family reasons or self employment. The mommy-trackers were left out. But the gap didn't go away: Twice as many of the most proactive men advanced to a senior executive level as similar women. The report concludes, "[W]hen women used the same career advancement strategies as men, they advanced less."
WHAT HOLDS WOMEN BACK
Catalyst's most recent report may shed some light on part of what holds women back: They aren't given the highly visible assignments that are critical to helping employees advance.
Following the same group of high potentials, the study found that women are perhaps even more anxious to take on these big-time assignments, having more project-based experience than men. Men and women were also equally quick to jump on these opportunities. They both led projects about 18 months after getting their MBAs. Yet men were given larger and more critical projects, with twice the budget of women's projects, three times as many employees, more visibility to the boss, and a higher level of risk. Women were also given less international experience, even though men are just as likely to turn down these assignments.