Pay Inequity for Women Starts at the First Job -- But Why?

Last Updated Apr 22, 2010 10:15 AM EDT

Pay discrepancies between men and women have been well documented. But many of us thought progress was being made over the last decade to fix the problem.

Guess we were wrong. Looking at salaries of newly minted men and women MBAs at their first jobs, a recent survey discovered the women made on average $4,600 less. The split grows wider as careers advance.

Now a mystery has emerged, reports editor Scott Berinato. Why does this divergence start at the very first job women take?

"First jobs, where companies have the most control over setting salaries, seem like an especially egregious place for discrepancies to emerge. Female and male candidates at that stage are all freshly-minted MBAs, with similar backgrounds and career choices." Berinato writes in his provocative blog post, Is a Woman's MBA Worth Less?
Possible reasons:
  • It's mostly men making the hiring decisions, and they will pick candidates they are most comfortable with, namely other men.
  • Money-starved institutions will choose women specifically to pay them less and save salary.
  • Male MBAs might have more references in high places (again, namely other men) that can drive up the salary on their behalf.
  • Women are less comfortable then men playing negotiation hardball.
All these sound pretty iffy to me, and the real answer is, we don't know.

Do you know? Please share your ideas on why women start their careers lower on the salary ladder than their equally qualified male colleagues.

(Image by kevindooley, CC 3.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.