Going For Promotion: The Gender Gap At Work

Women have to meet more stringent criteria for promotion than men, but much of the difference lies in their different attributes: lack of work experience, for example, is more important than ''glass ceilings''. What''s more, such barriers to women''s promotion are greatest at the lower end of the job ladder; men and women are treated pretty much equally once senior grades are reached. These are some of the conclusions reached by David Jones and Gerald Makepeace in an analysis of the personnel data of a large UK financial company, published in a recent issue of the Economic Journal. Jones and Makepeace examined the gender differences in pay and position across the 15 grades of the company to assess how much they were due to factors like age, education and work experience and how much due to discrimination. They found that:

  • Men''s salaries were on average 67% higher than women''s. About a third of thisdifference can probably be ascribed to discrimination.
  • There was very little difference between the salaries of men and women within
    particular grades. However, 85% of women were in clerical grades and only 40% of
    men, while only 1% of women were in management grades and 25% of men.
  • Men were on average two and a half grades higher up the hierarchy than women.
    Up to a third of this difference can be ascribed to discrimination. The reason for the
    difference is that women have to demonstrate higher latent ability to win promotion.
    If the same promotion criteria were applied to both genders, the proportion of
    female managers would rise to 3%.
  • Women had on average been employed for 7.6 years compared with 16.6 for men. If
    women''s work experience was the same as men''s, the proportion in management
    grades would rise to 20%, not far short of men''s 25%.

Assessing why women are discriminated against is difficult, but one possible motive for the reluctance to promote women to positions of managerial responsibility is the fear they will drop out to have children, disrupting the corporate hierarchy. This is consistent with evidence that women advance more successfully in professional jobs that demand marketable individual skills than in managerial jobs with direct control over staff and resources. It also means that the growing number of women in junior managerial positions will not result automatically in increased representation at higher levels.

''Equal Worth, Equal Opportunities: Pay and Promotion in an Internal
Labour Marker'' by David Jones and Gerry Makepeace is published in the March 1996
issue of the Economic Journal. Jones is at the University of Wales, Bangor; Makepeace is
Professor of Economics at Cardiff Business School.