Why Nice Girls Earn Less Than Their Coworkers


"Nice" is bad for your salary.

Box of iced donuts

Being the nice girl at work might score you a posse of coffee buddies and a satisfied inner glow, but according to researchers, it won’t do a thing to nab you a decent salary.

A study published in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology found that women who are “agreeable” in the workplace tend to be paid less than their coworkers. And they’re completely unaware of the disadvantage, telling researchers they believed they were being paid fairly or even more than they deserve.

“This blew our minds,” says study author Professor Sharon Toker, whose team surveyed around 400 male and female employees at a Dutch multinational company, as well as crunching the numbers on their tenure and salary history. “The data shows that [agreeable women] earn the least – far less than what they deserve. And they rationalise the situation, making it less likely that they will make appropriate demands for equal pay.”

“A study found that women who are ‘agreeable’ in the workplace tend to be paid less than their coworkers.”

While toughening up at the office won’t close the gender pay gap altogether – the study found that more assertive women were paid better than the ‘nice’ girls, but still earned less than both dominant and agreeable male colleagues – there are a few ways you can reduce the sugar in your work persona for financial gain.

The key is to find the middle ground between too nice and total nightmare, says psychologist Alison Hill. “Socially, women are held in high regard by others if they’re pleasant, kind to others and caring – all of these are attributes of being ‘nice’,” she explains. They’re great qualities to have, but in the workplace it pays to temper them with a ‘tough but fair’ approach, Alison adds. “The bosses and colleagues that we admire the most are the ones who are able to navigate the balance between giving important feedback while still supporting the individual,” she notes.

Going from nice girl to star player doesn’t require a personality transplant, says Alison, just a few subtle shifts in behaviour. Firstly, mind your language. “Remove the words ‘sorry’ and ‘just’ from your vocabulary,” Alison advises. “Many people start a sentence apologising – even though they’ve done nothing wrong – and then use phrases such as, ‘I just need two minutes’ or, ‘I just have a question.’ Both of these have a sense of submissiveness – remove these words and automatically your message will be more direct.”

“Remove the words ‘sorry’ and ‘just’ from your vocabulary and automatically your message will be more direct.”

Communicating your message with clarity is also a biggie. Alison says women tend to hint at what they need rather than stating it outright to avoid upsetting their colleagues. “People aren’t mind-readers. Be clear in your requests and refusals, which you can do with compassion and understanding, but in a way that still makes it clear where you stand,” she explains.

And, getting comfy with delegating will give you major leadership vibes while ensuring you don’t get bogged down doing more work than you should. “Set clear boundaries and stick to them,” Alison tips. “Delegate the tasks others ought to be doing, make it clear what’s okay and what’s not okay, and then stick to these boundaries.” It might feel weird to loosen your grip on the reins, but think of it this way: attempting to do everything will only dilute your professional resources. Keeping a little energy in reserve allows you to level up when required.

Ultimately, it pays to remember that keeping the ‘nice’ act up will get you nowhere. “Some professional women are still afraid to exhibit a trait that’s incongruent with presumed notions of female character,” says Prof Toker. “The result is financial retribution.” Enough said.

Read More: How To Master The Art Of Self-Promotion

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