How the 'entitlement gap' is holding women back at work

Rear view of woman with fist in the air.
Rear view of woman with fist in the air.

Your hard work consistently gets good results and you’re hoping for a promotion. But when it comes to requesting a raise, there is a little voice in the back of your mind that questions whether you really deserve it.

Most people question their worth from time to time. When salaries are a taboo subject and promotions depend on who you know rather than performance, it can be difficult to know exactly how much you should be compensated for your work.

However, research suggests women are far more likely to feel less deserving than men because they are conditioned into an ‘un-entitled mindset.’ And this lack of entitlement is having a serious impact on their careers.

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A study of 2,000 UK workers, conducted by LinkedIn in partnership with educational charity The Female Lead, found that 44% of women agree that women feel less entitled to promotions or increased pay in the workplace. More than a third (35%) saying they had experienced the entitlement gap themselves or had seen it experienced by others.

Among those surveyed, more men admitted negotiating pay for a new role than women - 63% compared to 40% - and while nearly half of the men (48%) said they had asked for a pay increase or promotion outside of their annual review, only a third of women (32%) had done the same.

The implications of the entitlement gap also affected women when applying for jobs too. The survey results showed more than a third of men (37%) said they would apply for a new role if they felt they met approximately 50% of the criteria required. For women, only one in four (27%) would apply. Unsurprisingly, women from marginalised backgrounds were most affected.

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“The entitlement gap is a way to describe the phenomenon that men have a greater sense of entitlement to career markers such as promotions, pay-rises and big projects,” explains careers expert Hanna Andersen, founder & leadership coach at As We Are.

“It exists because we live in a society that consistently shows us that power and leadership are inherently masculine. When women don’t see themselves represented, it can cause them to display unconscious bias to themselves and think that they don’t belong in top jobs,” she says.

“When women don’t feel that they deserve more money or a bigger job, they’re very unlikely to go for it. This can be an overall contributor to the gender pay gap because - along with many other structural issues - it can keep women in lower positions.”

Nichola Johnson-Marshall, career coach and co-founder of Working Wonder, explains that feeling entitled means you feel you have the right to something and are deserving of a reward.

“Unless you are in a position of privilege and lucky enough to be in a homogeneous group in society or the workplace, it is likely at some point you may have been impacted by the entitlement gap,” she says.

“It’s like an inner confidence and bravado that due to your position in society you are able to benefit from it. The entitlement gap refers to when an individual feels they are in a minority position and don’t feel they can have access to or deserve any privileges in life.”

When women are an underrepresented group both in their workplace and wider industry, the implications of the gap can be felt more acutely. “This can be triggered for women when returning to work post maternity leave and having new childcare responsibilities, for example,” Johnson-Marshall says.

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“When you feel in a minority position, you can be prone to comparing your own success to others and due to external factors such as unconscious bias and stereotyping, managers may also judge you unfairly in that way too. This can impact women’s confidence in themselves and often feel like they are imposters instead of focusing on their own strengths and the diversity they bring to the workplace.”

And with women already disproportionately affected by the pandemic due to extra pressures falling on them related to childcare, the entitlement gap is likely to increase. Yet as the solution lies with employers addressing engrained structural inequalities, there is no quick fix. So as an individual, what can you do about it?

“Check your ‘lack of privilege’ by trying to identify what you think your entitlement gap is specifically related to. Is it related to your gender, ethnicity, education, professional experience, socio-economic background, or all of them?” Johnson-Marshall says.

“Then remind yourself that, yes you may not have certain privileges that others have been afforded in life, but that you have real resilience and that you do have many of your own unique strengths, or ‘superpowers’ as we like to call them and that you should define your own path to career success.”

If you feel impacted by the entitlement gap, it’s likely that others you work with will be impacted too - for a whole host of reasons. “Talk openly about how you are feeling with colleagues and ask others if they experience it too,” she advises. “It naturally provides a safe space for them to open up too about any insecurities they may have as well. It’s also a great way to give yourself a reality check and to normalise the fact that everyone has things which impact their confidence at work.”

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