Does Personality Contribute to the Gender Pay Gap?
Being a woman sucks when it comes to income. The median salary for American women is about 85 percent of men’s, which means a woman would have to work an extra 39 days to earn what a man did in 2018. These numbers are pretty incendiary. Even if you’re not shocked, they’re going to leave a nasty taste in the mouth.
Here at Truity, we’ve been looking at the effect of personality type on income and found significant differences in how different personalities are rewarded or penalized in the workplace. (If you haven’t seen it, you can read the full report here.) But there’s another part of our research that we haven’t spoken about yet, and that’s whether personality has the same impact on salary when you throw gender into the mix. Specifically, we wanted to know whether the 15 percent pay gap is universal across all personality types or if that number is hiding other differences in how men and women are paid.
Prepare your eyeballs to spring from your sockets ladies, because the results are pretty blood-boiling. Turns out that no matter how “high-earning” your personality type, as a woman, you’re probably not going to be earning as much as a man.
Pay By Personality Type
To recap our research, we looked at average income by personality type based on 72,331 respondents who took our online TypeFinder® personality assessment. Here’s the average income by personality type for all respondents over the age of 21, men and women combined.
As you can see, Extraverted Thinkers have a clear income advantage over other types. ENTJs, the highest earners, make $26,000 a year more on average than our lowest earners, INFPs. ESTJs, ENTPs and ESTPs take the other three spots in the best-paid quartile.
For anyone who knows anything about personality type, these results are not too surprising. Multiple studies have demonstrated a link between income and personality traits such as extraversion and goal orientation, and the majority of our respondents have observed first-hand how those who put themselves out there and network are more likely to make it to the top of the salary ladder. “I find that more gregarious people are more likely to get promoted, regardless of other factors,” says Hunter, an INTP female. “It's good if you're clever, a hard worker, and a quick learner, but if you're all of those things and talkative, you tend to make it further.”
John, an INFJ, reflects the views of many—that certain personalities are driven to seize the highest-paying jobs. “In the same way that there are ideal careers for every personality type, certain careers pay better and come with greater prestige than others. Not everyone is cut out to be the president of a company, for example, but certain personality types are more likely to end up with jobs like president. Therefore, it stands to reason that these same personality types (ESTJ being the most prominent) will earn larger salaries.”
This is a reasonable argument. Personality influences our choice of education and career which is a big determinant of lifetime earnings. So it could be that Extraverted Thinkers are self-selecting into the types of careers that pay very well.
But when we look at women separately, that’s not quite what’s going on.
The Gender Pay Gap is Real
Separate women out of the pack, and you can see that Extraverted Thinkers still have the income advantage. But the effect of personality pales in comparison to the effect of simply being a woman. Men of virtually every type earn over the average income for our sample. For women, only two types earn more than the mean.
When you look at the average income for the eight personality preferences individually, it’s clear that Extraversion, Thinking and Judging are positively correlated with income for both men and women. Each of these traits gives a wage premium over their counterparts (Introversion, Feeling and Perceiving), although the premium is bigger for men than it is for women.
Nonetheless, Introverted men earn more than Extraverted women. Feeling men earn more than Thinking women. Perceiving men earn more than Judging women. The pattern repeats across the board.
What shall we make of this data? Our research suggests that both men and women need the “right” combination of traits to get ahead in the workplace. But even when a woman possess the full complement of advantageous personality traits (ETJ), she still earns less than an IFP man. It’s just still the “good old boy’s club mentality,” laments Raindrop 108, an INFJ woman. “I never got promoted even though I went above and beyond.” Why? She was “passed over by unlikely candidates.”
Are Women Poor Wage Negotiators?
Could it be that women, irrespective of personality type, don’t ask so they don’t get? Someone with experience in salary negotiations, the male CEO of a NYC company with 500+ employees (himself an INFJ) certainly thinks so. “Women are less assertive in the workplace, especially in relation to male colleagues,” he says. “I am not afraid to make difficult decisions. That has been enormously helpful to me in climbing the company ladder.” The suggestion here is that men are getting the pay raises and promotions because they’re showing up and negotiating to achieve their own interests.
Previous studies make a similar observation, namely that more agreeable/ less challenging personalities are poor wage negotiators and are too passive in conflict situations. This makes salary negotiations tricky, something that Kim, “a conflict-avoidant INFP” knows only too well. “Asking for a salary increase is stressful,” she told us. “They could get upset with me, I might have to argue for it, I fear it will result in conflict. So I patiently wait for it to be offered to me... (cue crickets chirping).”
So are women simply more passive in the workplace, and is that why they’re not earning as much? We took a deep-dive into the Typefinder to find out. Typefinder is unique in that it breaks each of the eight personality dimensions down into 5-6 more detailed facets. This gives us an x-ray view into 23 distinct facets of personality that flesh out our understanding of each preference.
What we found is that two traits, Ambitious and Challenging, correlate most strongly with higher income. Ambitious, a facet of the Judging dimension, describes someone who desires success and is driven to achieve lofty goals. Challenging is a facet of the Thinking dimension and describes someone who is not afraid of conflict and enjoys healthy debate.
So maybe women, even the Thinker-Judgers, just aren’t Ambitious or Challenging and that’s why they are out-earned by men? Er….no. Even the most Ambitious women—the top third of our respondents representing the strongest go-getters in our sample—earned $9,498 less per year than men who scored around the average on Ambition. This suggests that personality type has some impact on the earnings of women, but it’s just not powerful enough to overcome the effect of simply being a woman.
Dogged by a Double Standard?
To get a feel for how these findings might play out on the ground, we asked our respondents,“In your experience, how are the earnings of men/women influenced by personality characteristics?” The responses were many and varied, but virtually all our respondents mentioned the concept of cultural conditioning—the idea that men are judged favorably for assertive behaviors whereas women are judged harshly for exhibiting the exact same personality traits.
“Strong assertive women are discriminated against so will have fewer promotions,” says an INTJ female, who wishes to remain anonymous. “Bosses, especially male bosses, have told me that I am too direct, however [they] accept this in men.” Mel, a female ENFP, suggests that “an understanding/sympathetic attitude in women can get them railroaded in negotiations for salary, while the same characteristics are seen as a salary-boosting character type in men.” She comments that although companies say they hire her for her “dynamic, bold, and open nature,” in her experience, many companies actually want her to “tone it down.”
For ENTJ women, our highest-paid bunch, the experience of the double standard comes across loud and clear. “I am an assertive woman. Life success for me is mostly attained through my professional sphere and how I can use that to impact society,” says an ENTJ female, who has asked not to be named. And yet, “I've been seen as threatening, manipulative, out-for-myself. Being okay with conflict is sometimes read as ‘pot-stirrer’ or ‘looking for problems…’”
Ronda B, also an ENTJ, agrees. “[Extraversion] is more assertive at highlighting accomplishments. I believe that receives better performance ratings,” she says. But at the same time, “Assertive women can appear pushy. I often wait to speak at meetings so my assertions are favorably heard.”
Can Women Be Themselves at Work?
In view of the negative personality criticism that many women seem to be receiving in the workplace, do our respondents feel able to express their personalities at work?
“No way!” said an INTJ female who asked to remain nameless. She confesses to “playing extrovert and easy going,” in the workplace as otherwise, she is perceived as “too intimidating to others.”
This ENTP female agrees. “I think I am ‘too big’ a personality at work,” she says. “I realize that colleagues often don't get me.”
As for our commanders, the ambitious and influential ENTJs, well, even they are not immune from mask wearing. “As a female ENTJ, I feel I have to conform to female standards of femininity, motherhood, dressing, being nurturing and sensitive—when all I really want is to get my goals achieved,” says one anonymous respondent. “And I do feel that all these feminine qualities make up the impression that I am not a go-getter, and weak and being eager to please—which is all not true.”
But wait… if women are acting less assertive and less go-getting and more easygoing and more nurturing to get ahead at work, aren’t they reinforcing the very traits that will actually block their advancement in the workplace? It’s mind-blowing stuff and we don’t know quite what to make of it all.
There are some glimmers of hope: for every one of our respondents who reported hiding her personality in the workplace, there was another who embraced it. Debbie Bass, MPA, CFRE, and an ESFJ, says “For the most part, yes, I am able to express my personality at work. I am warm, cheerful, action-oriented, high integrity, caring, and highly motivated….My personality has definitely been an incredible asset for my job/profession as a fundraiser.”
Bianca, an INFP who has studied and worked in Sweden, France and Chile, observes that “some countries are better and some are worse regarding the earnings of men and women, but the pay gap has always been present and fairly visible. Regardless of country, an extroverted and assertive person will earn more and an introverted and agreeable person will earn less.” She reports knowing women who’ve “reached far on the career ladder” but who still complain that their male counterparts earn more. Despite this, Bianca says that “Experience is a hard teacher, and after 12 years as a consultant on different projects, I have decided to embrace my personality in a professional environment. My personality is also part of my expertise: coordination, change management and team work and it's taxing trying to be someone you're not.”
Jane, an INFJ whose personality ranks among the lower-earning types, has also observed how nice guys come last. “The more sensitive, introverted, types are looked at as not being ‘tough’ enough to hold management roles [and] are perceived as ‘not being as involved’ so often receive less in raises,” she says. Which surely must make it very tempting to hide her true personality at work? Not at all, she says. “I am unwilling to compromise myself, nothing is worth that. I would rather not have the job than not express my personality.”