The Pay Gap and Expectations

(This post originally appeared in

What if the frustrating pay gap between men and women was caused, in part, by our collective low expectation that women are supposed to be “good” providers?

This expectation is alive and well according to the recently released Pew Research Center report, The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families, even if it’s not grounded in reality.  Most women will work most of their lives outside of the home in some capacity.

Women are already providers but that’s not what we expect.

According to the Pew Research Center study, when asked “To be ready for marriage, how important is it that a man be a good provider?” 67% of all respondents said, “very important.”   But when posed the same question regarding women, only 33% said, “very important.”  (I’d bet if Pew asked the question, “how important is it that men/women be a good caregiver” the results would flip.)

Expectations matter.   They affect the choices we make.

If women aren’t expected to be good providers but men are, how does that affect the decisions each gender makes from a very young age that perpetuate the gap?

When I was growing up my family emphasized education and being able to support myself but I was never expected to be a “good provider.”  What if I had been?  Would I have been forced to learn how to negotiate my compensation more effectively at a younger age?     Would I have made different, perhaps more lucrative, choices throughout my career?

That’s exactly what my friend Karen has done since we started in the same bank management training program after college.   From the beginning, Karen had clear high expectations for her career and for her compensation.   I remember staring in awe as the 23 year old Karen responded, “No,” when asked by the bank’s President, “Is everyone happy with their placements?”   Sure enough, she was moved to the higher paying job that she wanted.

Over the next twenty years, Karen continued this pattern of asking for what she wanted and felt she deserved whether it was a title, a job or money.   It wasn’t always easy or fun, but she expected it for herself.  And guess what?  She got it along with a loving husband and three beautiful children.

I can’t help but wonder what would happen to the pay gap if more women were like Karen and set their earnings expectations as high as those of the men in their chosen fields doing the same amount and type of work?

Expectations also influence the way others perceive and respond to us. (Click here for more)