Conference Coverage

How to incorporate the gender wage gap into contract negotiations



Women physicians face a potential additional challenge in their contract negotiations that they need to account for: the gender wage gap.

Dr. Michael Sinha Gregory Twachtman/MDedge News

Dr. Michael Sinha

“Find a lawyer ... that will support your fight for pay equity,” Michael Sinha, MD, advised in a presentation at the annual meeting of the American College of Physicians.

“Definitely interview them,” said Dr. Sinha of Harvard Medical School, Boston. “Get a sense of how committed they are to that cause. Seek recommendations from other women in medicine. Maybe they will point you to the person who really is committed to this cause and wants to help you.”

He also cautioned that physicians might have to help their lawyer fill in the knowledge gap. “Sometimes you need to provide that lawyer with data. There are a lot of reports that have been published from various organizations [including the ACP]. Don’t assume that the lawyer has the evidence.”

Armed with evidence, he said there is opportunity to address gender pay gaps in the contract. “You can put a lot of things into your contract, why not some of these things? If there is institutional evidence of a pay gap or a leaky promotional pipeline, you are telling them you have a problem with salary discrepancies between male and female physicians and I need to protect my own self-worth.”

Dr. Sinha recommended prospective employees develop strategies with their lawyers, which could mean letting the lawyer take the lead in the negotiations.

“Maybe that reduces stress or emotion in the process. That will preserve a good relationship with the employer,” he said. “A confident, knowledgeable lawyer may help mitigate gender differences in negotiation strategy.”

In order to help close the gender gap, Dr. Sinha said he advises his male colleagues to help female physicians by being open about their compensation, especially if compensation is not public information. “I have been encouraging male physician colleagues of mine to share that information when you are asked. Don’t make it impossible for someone to figure out.”

He noted that it is not likely that closing the gender gap by raising women’s compensation is going to result in male physicians losing money, but rather in the long run it will mean better compensation for everyone.

Dr. Sinha also had this advice for employers: “Before you do anything else, level your pay gap. ... For every physician that works in your organization, level your pay gap. Offer equitable salary packages up front to men and women. Understand your responsibilities under federal and state equal pay laws.”

When it comes to equitable compensation packages, all offerings, including salary and fringe benefits, should be offered to both male and female physicians or to neither.

“Don’t make something nonnegotiable for women but engage men in negotiations,” he said. “I think that is obvious but I have seen that happen.”

Dr. Sinha also said it is important to check your gender biases at the door before entering negotiations. Don’t view a woman asking for something as demanding or harsh when a male asking for the same exact thing is viewed as assertive and self-confident.

“Don’t fall into those traps. And if you have people that can call out your biases and help you see that, that’s important,” Dr. Sinha noted.

He also stated that hiring committees need to show diversity in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity, adding that it is “hugely important” that you do that.

The bottom line is to not force women to negotiate for equal pay, Dr. Sinha noted. “The gender gap is well documented in medicine, and you really have to do your part.”

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