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Why the Gender Pay Gap Still Exists

Are today’s working women leaning in?

Key points

  • The gender pay gap exists, women make less than men. One belief is women don’t negotiate for themselves.
  • A new series of recently published studies suggests that the belief that women don’t lean in is wrong.
  • What factors account for the pervasive gender gap in pay? Front and center is bias and discrimination.

Is there still a gender pay gap? The Pew Research Center estimates that women earn an average of 82 percent of what men are paid for comparable work. The pay gap between what men and women make is real. What are the reasons?

One belief is that men tend to get paid more because they are more likely than women to promote themselves and negotiate for higher pay. This idea that women, compared to men, don’t lean in and advocate for themselves was the topic of popular books by former Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg (2013), and Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide (Babcock and Laschever, 2003). A new series of studies published in the Academy of Management Discoveries (Kray, Kennedy, and Lee, 2023) suggests that the stereotype that women don’t lean in and negotiate their salaries is wrong.

In this series of studies, women and men, both from the general population, as well as graduates with MBA degrees were asked how much they tried to negotiate higher initial salaries, and how much they asked for raises and promotions later in their careers. The results suggested that women actually engaged in more negotiation than men. Yet, analyses of salaries and career trajectories over time suggested that women were paid less than men (the well-known gender pay gap) and that they were more likely to be turned down for raises and promotions.

Moreover, when people were asked if they believed that part of the gender gap in wages was due to women not negotiating, a significant number of men, and women, believed that it was true (even though the research results debunked the women not leaning in stereotype). Interestingly, men, as opposed to women, were more likely to believe that women’s lack of negotiating led to the pay gap.

If the Gender Pay Gap Is Not Due to Women’s Lack of Negotiation, Why Does It Still Exist?

There may be some other reasons. Typically, women have greater responsibility for household duties, and women are more likely than men to take time out of their career progression to have and raise children. There is also some evidence that women may choose less lucrative career paths, in sectors that tend to be lower paying (for example, education and healthcare). However, the results of these new studies, and earlier research, suggest that simple discrimination and bias against women in the workforce is a primary reason.

What Are Some of the Reasons for Bias?

In positions of leadership, there is still a tendency to view the prototypical leader as a man, and one who has stereotypically masculine, agentic qualities, such as assertiveness, competitiveness, and dominance. Women, as a group, are less agentic and more communal – helpful, nurturing, and kind. In selecting leaders, there is a preference for more agentic qualities, and there is, in many organizations, a preference for a strongman leader.

One psychological reason that may both explain the false belief that women don’t lean in and negotiate for themselves, and may underpin continued gender discrimination in employment is the tendency toward blaming the victim. To rationalize why a pay gap exists, many employers may turn to the false beliefs that women don’t negotiate or stand up for themselves, that women will fall off of their career paths to raise children, or that women aren’t as competitive and high-achieving as men.

In any case, this research demonstrates that the gender pay gap is not because women don’t lean in!


Kray, L., Kennedy, J., & Lee, M. (2023). Now, Women Do Ask: A Call to Update Beliefs about the Gender Pay Gap. Academy of Management Discoveries, (ja).

Sandberg, S. & Scovell, N. (2013). Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Knopf.

Babcock, L., & Laschever, S. (2003). Women don't ask: Negotiation and the gender divide. Princeton University Press.

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