When it comes to salaries, women get a bad deal. In 2020, women earned just 81 cents for every dollar earned by men. And although the statistics have not yet been finalized, it seems likely that the COVID-19 pandemic is going to make things worse. The added burden of childcare in lockdown has had a much greater impact on mothers than on fathers, and women are more likely to have quit or lost their job; all of this has implications for women’s careers and for their long-term earnings. 

Of course, many factors underlie the gender pay gap, including bias and direct discrimination. But now, research by The Myers-Briggs Company shows that differences in personality may also contribute, as well as suggesting a way of reducing the pay gap in the future.

Differences in Conflict Style May Contribute to Pay Discrepancies

The research study used data from an archive of over 400,000 people who had completed the Thomas-Kilman conflict modes Instrument (TKI) online between 2004 and 2019. The TKI assessment (disclosure: my company publishes this instrument) looks at how assertive a person is (how focused they are on satisfying their own concerns) and how cooperative they are (how focused they are on satisfying other people’s concerns). 

The combination of these two factors means that an individual will tend naturally to fall into one of five modes when it comes to conflict: 

  • Competing (pursuing your own goals at others’ expense)
  • Collaborating (working with others to find a solution that fully satisfies the concerns of both you and them)
  • Compromising (splitting the difference, exchanging concessions, or seeking a quick middle-ground position)
  • Avoiding (avoiding conflict, sidestepping the issue, withdrawing)
  • Accommodating (neglecting your own concerns to satisfy the concerns of other people)

Gender Differences in Conflict Approaches

We tend to fall into our natural mode in any conflict situation, and that includes pay negotiations. The results of our research showed that men were significantly more likely than women to use a Competing approach, while women were more likely than men to use the less assertive Compromising, Avoiding or Accommodating approaches. 

This is likely to put women at a disadvantage when it comes to pay negotiations, especially with a male boss. A male manager is more likely to approach the negotiation as a contest, looking to ‘win’, where female employees may be looking for a compromise or to avoid conflict. Male employees, more likely to have a Competing approach themselves, are less likely to suffer from this disadvantage.

Information is Power–Changing Your Conflict Style for More Effective Pay Negotiations

So personality, and in particular male-female differences in typical negotiating style, may contribute to the gender pay gap. But information is power. Once an employee is aware of these findings and has discovered their own typical conflict style, this gives them the potential to adapt their style as appropriate in pay negotiations. 

And where organizations are serious about reducing gender equality, they may want to consider sharing these findings with those making decisions about salary, including individual managers, so that they can recognise the effect of conflict styles and reduce any bias in favor of those with a more assertive style. Life does not always have to be a competition, and organizations that treat employees as collaborators rather than competitors generally prosper in the long run.