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A New Variable in the Debate About Gender Pay Difference

August 3, 2012 -- Scottsdale, AZ -- Interesting article in this week’s Wharton e-newsletter (highly recommend you subscribe for free if you don’t already) highlights an academic study on "gender segregation" and pay. My experience as a staff member of this compensation association for the past decade is that the issue of gender pay differences can be like the issue of “excessive” executive pay: more complex than it appears and not many people want to talk about it – or if they do, they tend to have a very strong opinion.

Over the years, I’ve looked at what seems like countless studies about gender pay differences but this one has a new angle that I haven’t seen before. A couple of management professors looked at a group of men and women MBA students and studied the choices they made in their job application process. They didn’t look at simple wages earned year-over-year, or the effect of time out of the workforce for childbirth, or any of the other variables that I’ve seen tested.

With a sample of more than 1,200 students (which the authors point out is “far from representative of the population at large”), the academics found the following: “…women were significantly less likely to apply to Wall Street-type finance jobs, somewhat less likely to apply to consulting jobs, and more likely to apply to jobs in general management, most notably internal finance and marketing. Not coincidentally, the finance and consulting jobs that women avoided were also the ones that were most highly paid.”

Please don’t misinterpret that I am writing about this because I think this is particularly good research or the “final word” on the gender pay issue. These folks seem like competent academics, but it obviously won't be the final word. Gender pay difference has always been a very complex -- and sometimes heated -- issue, and I honestly don't see that changing anytime soon. I’m merely placing this new study into the conversation that occasionally pops up about gender pay differences.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of WorldatWork.

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