Why do men make more money than women? Before you start sputtering, calm down. I don't mean you personally. I have no idea how much you make or what you're worth.
I'm referring to the well-documented fact that, on average, women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man gets.
Is it because women love to stay in low-paid jobs?
Or perhaps we don't care about money as much as men do?
Or maybe the Women's Movement wasn't the great equalizer after all, and some people still don't think women are worth as much as men.
Dr. Warren Farrell, author of "Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap - and What Women Can Do About It" (AMACOM, $23), suggests, "The pay gap can no longer be attributed to large-scale discrimination against women. Men who earn more often do so not because of their gender but because of the individual choices they make."
Farrell goes on to make the following example: "To get higher pay, men are more likely to enter higher paying fields, perform riskier tasks, take positions with less stability and less fulfillment and work longer hours."
Does that mean I have to be a foreman on an oil-rig to make decent dough?
Farrell points out that, while statistics show men earn more than women, we often assume men are paid more for the same work. However, he says, "If women really are paid less, why would anyone hire a man?"
Touché. Why get a guy when you can get a girl for three-quarters of the price?
Maybe there's an even more obvious explanation for the wage gap. Perhaps men make more simply because they ask for more.
A recent "Good Morning America" segment revealed that, when it comes to negotiating better pay for their work, men typically perform better because many women dislike negotiating so much that they don't even bother to try.
"Good Morning America's" workplace expert Tory Johnson partnered with Carnegie Mellon economist Linda Babcock to create a "Good Morning America Bargaining Behavior Lab" to observe firsthand the differences in negotiation styles between genders. (For more information, visit www.abc.com.)
Volunteers were asked to play the game Boggle. They were also told that they'd be paid between $5 and $12, which was negotiable. After playing one round, they were each offered $5 and asked, "Is this OK?"
The unscientific results? More than half the men asked for more money, but only a third of the women bargained for more.
I've taught negotiating skills in a corporate environment and I can tell you that avoiding conflict and preserving relationships are almost always more important to women than getting extra money.
Conversely, I should also mention that a few of the men in my seminars were sent there because they were so aggressive in "negotiating" (demanding) their fair due that their customers refused to do business with them ever again.
Typically however, the males felt it was their duty to their family, or their company, to go for every last dime, while the females almost always wanted the other guy to leave the bargaining table feeling good. There were exceptions, but I observed this scenario time and time again with even the highest-level executives.
It's probably no surprise that men are more willing to risk making a gutsy request. A lifetime of asking for dates and choosing sides for sports teams dulls down their fear of rejection. And when you think about how much courage it takes a man to ask a woman to marry him, negotiating for a few extra bucks in a job interview seems like no big deal.
So what can women learn about negotiating from the men who do it well? It's simple - if you don't ask, you don't get.
So swallow your fear of conflict, ladies. Put on your assertiveness hat and remember, it's not life or death. It's only money, honey.
Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear."