Getting fired is almost always difficult and disappointing, but research suggests the impacts are far more devastating for women than men.
In fact, while men typically bounce back stronger, earning an average of 1.3% more in their subsequent role, women typically see their salaries decrease by an average of 24%, according to a recent study by Insurance Quotes.
“The salary decrease that we’re seeing in this study is really significant,” says Insurance Quotes media relations associate Bri Godwin. “That’s enough to really change how you live your life.”
How employers can help balance the scales
Godwin points to the fact that men are more likely to negotiate their salary as a potential explanation for the discrepancy. In fact, research from Levo and Glassdoor found that 66% and 68% of women polled, respectively, accepted the salary they are offered without negotiation.
“Women are less likely to negotiate salary or ask for raises because they think they won’t get them, so I would tell women not to be scared or nervous, and don’t let the fear of thinking you’re not going to get [a higher salary] stop you from trying,” says Godwin. “I would also tell women to go in knowing what you’re going to ask for, and be willing to negotiate the salary you think you deserve.”
One potential solution is listing salaries as negotiable, which leads women to negotiate just as much as men in job interviews, according to a recent study by the Harvard Kennedy School. Another solution is increased pay transparency, which would help provide candidates with a better understanding of what their role is worth.
“There is significant evidence that pay bias is something that can follow you throughout your career,” says Paula Brantner, a senior adviser for Workplace Fairness, a nonprofit organization that offers career resources and legal assistance. “If you’re underpaid and undervalued in your first job, then when you go to your next job, they look at what you’re making and continue to undervalue you, so as your career progresses you get further and further behind.”
Different perspectives lead to different outcomes
The way in which each gender reacts to the termination can also play a role in their future earnings. According to the Insurance Quotes study, men and women both felt equally frustrated after getting fired, but women were 13% more likely more to feel sadness, 5% more likely to feel anger, 11% more likely to feel embarrassment, and 8% more likely to feel fear. Men, on the other hand, were 5% more likely to feel joy and 2% more likely to feel excitement.
“Women who are let go–even if it’s a result of downsizing or outsourcing–tend to internalize it. Psychologists call it female ruminations,” explains Barbara Annis, CEO of the Gender Intelligence Group. “Men tend to externalize it, like, ‘They’re just a bunch of jerks, I’m going to go out and do better,’ that kind of thing.”
Annis adds that both genders feel the sting of termination equally, but her research has found that men will typically move on faster. In fact, the Insurance Quotes study found that 57% of both men and women felt frustration in regards to their firing. The study also found that men were more likely to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana to get over their frustration, while women were more likely to turn to cigarettes.
“It doesn’t mean that men don’t also get angry and upset and act out and drink more or whatever, it’s a very stressful situation for both genders without a doubt,” says Annis. “It’s more about the longer-term rumination that happens to women. They really need to have a strong network of support to get out of that rut.”
How social infrastructure could close the gap
Another factor contributing to the significant discrepancy in how men and women bounce back from a termination may be rooted in the reasons behind the termination itself.
According to the Insurance Quotes study, 35% of men and 29% of women were forced out by budgetary cuts, while men were 5% more likely to get canned as a result of poor performance. Women, however, were significantly more likely to be terminated as a result of poor attendance.
“The issue of attendance suggests that it’s related to childcare,” says Ariane Hegewisch, the program director for employment and earnings at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “We know that the issue of being seen as unreliable because you have kids is often held against working mothers, and anything related to attendance is seen as a more systemic issue for women than men.”
With family-related burdens more often falling to women, and with working mothers often being seen as less reliable regardless of their actual attendance record, Hegewisch says it’s no surprise that 17% of women surveyed were terminated as a result of attendance issues, compared with 10% of the men who were terminated.
“This is an issue where women suffer from the lack of infrastructure that there is in the country,” she says. “It’s hard to find reliable childcare if you don’t have a high-paying job, and it’s particularly hard when your kids are young, so it may be a result of the lack of proper work family infrastructure that penalizes women more than men.”
Whether the discrepancy is the result of a lack of pay transparency, a lack of family care infrastructure, or a difference in emotional reaction, the effects of termination are drastically different for men and women, and ultimately contribute to the gender wage gap.