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Closing the Gender Wage Gap – the MBS Advantage

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These days, the engineering and tech sectors offer some of the fastest growing and highest-paying jobs of any industry. Yet women and men in these fields do not benefit equally: the entry-level salary for a woman in engineering or tech is $4,000 less than that of a man with identical (and sometimes lesser) credentials and skills. Why does this wage gap exist?

Stanford University researchers were wondering the same thing—because that initial pay disparity creates a wage gap that widens significantly over time. The National Science Foundation was curious about the wage gap, too, and funded the Stanford researchers’ study.

After two years of surveying engineering and computer science graduates from dozens of institutions, researchers pinpointed a singular criterion that impacted new hires' starting salaries: self-confidence.

“Employers in engineering and computer science fields appear to offer higher starting salaries to applicants who present as self-assured,” stated researchers, noting that the most self-assured applicants tend to be male. Indeed, in comparison to male counterparts of equal skills and abilities, women in the study reported feeling less sure of themselves when designing new products, conducting experiments, prototyping, and performing other career-related tasks.

Note: While this study is the first to identify a definitive link between confidence and pay disparity, research data was limited to new hires and starting salaries in the fields of engineering and computer science fields. This wage gap exists in all STEM sectors. And that the gap starts at the entry level of one’s career is especially significant, says study coauthor Sheri Sheppard, a Stanford professor of mechanical engineering, noting that when women start out $4,000 behind their male counterparts, catching up is nearly impossible.

Noting the Trend and Reversing the Trend

MBS executive coach Kathleen Cashman-Walter, MBS, PCC, is not surprised by the Stanford researchers’ findings. “The U.S. Census Bureau and other agencies have been monitoring the wage gap for 40 years,” she says, “and I have been coaching women—particularly women in STEM fields—for most of my own career.” In addition to women often appearing less confident than men during job interviews, says Cashman-Walter, “women tend to not negotiate their starting salary.”

So how can women present themselves more confidently in an interview? Cashman-Walter, who teaches MBS’s signature communications and leadership course, says, “It’s not done in one shot. It is done throughout the interview process by establishing your value through the information you provide—and the way you provide it—when answering questions.  It is done by having a resume that speaks your value through results, and by developing your own voice and confidence through experience.”

MBS Programming: Closing the Gap

“Throughout one’s career, identifying mentors, creating opportunities, having a seat at the table requires one to have a voice, and that voice only comes from confidence in one’s abilities,” says Cashman-Walter. That confidence, she continues, is developed by regularly applying one’s skills and abilities proficiently.

Through the MBS curriculum’s heavy emphasis on experiential learning, students have ample opportunity to apply and hone their knowledge and skills through experiential programs including the MBS Internships program and the MBS Externship Exchange, through the MBS Alumni-Student Mentorship program, and through Executive Coaching—an important resource for all students, but particularly for women in STEM.

This image shows individuals pictured in three different situations - individual coaching one-on-one (student/advisor), in a group setting (a coach with a group of students) and a picture titled "career development" with a successful-looking young man holding a resume

Working with a coach on a consistent basis is one of the best ways to invest in yourself,” says Cashman-Walter. “MBS’s Executive Coaching program is a resource that we make available to students from Day 1 of their MBS journey, and we encourage them to tap that resource heavily throughout their time as students,” she says, noting that regular participation in coaching sessions as a student increases the likelihood that students then will tap coaching and other valuable career resources after graduation and throughout their careers. 

“The transition from school to work is unique in that if people can get on the right track, it propels you,” says Sheppard. To that, Cashman-Walter says, “MBS puts that track right in front of you in so very many ways.”

Jen Reiseman-Briscoe
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