My husband says I need to become a prostitute like he is. He's a management consultant who, like an attorney, charges by the hour.
I was recently asked to offer some business advice to a couple of female entrepreneurs. Of course I said, "Yes! I'd be happy to help!" This prompted my husband to ask me how much money I would charge for this advice. I demurred, thinking that we women have to help one another.
This discussion with my husband reminded me of another conversation I had with a female attorney who had done some work for me last year. She contacted me again recently regarding our prior transaction and mentioned that she wouldn't invoice me for the 15 minutes it took her to deal with the issue at hand. I protested, and pointed out that it's hard enough for women to make it to partner in law firms, and they get there one billable hour at a time. My attorney friend responded, "Guilty. The one female partner of the firm and I have had this conversation multiple times about why we're willing to not bill for our time more readily than our male counterparts."
On a similar note, according to a study of male and female veterinarians who own their own practices (and thus have pricing decision authority), the women charged less than their male counterparts for the same procedure. Why? The researchers postulated that women veterinarians value their relationships with clients more than the size of their bank accounts. The same phenomenon of women charging less for their services can be found among mortgage brokers -- in one study, women earned $575 less per loan than those written by men.
Am I living a double standard? I won't bill for my own time, but I expect another female professional to bill for hers? Are we women sabotaging our own earning power, thus inadvertently fueling the depressing statistics of our wage gap with men?
Catherine Rampell, writing in a recent New York Times Economix Blog, cited data from PayScale that tracks the wage gap between equally educated men and women through their careers. Despite a significant gap at the start of their careers (age 22), by the time they hit 30, men's and women's wages increased by roughly the same percentage. However, women's wages plateau at about $60,000 per year when they reach age 39. Meanwhile, their male counterparts continue to enjoy regular salary increases until they turn 48, when their pay tops out at around $95,000.
What's contributing to this trend? Some researchers suggest that women are less motivated by extrinsic rewards (outward signs of value such as salary, bonuses, title or the brand of car you drive) than men are. Others have pointed out that women have greater fear of "negative evaluation" in social settings, so they will conform to societal expectations more than men.
This means that we women tend to react and moderate our pricing strategy based on (1) our relationship with the client and the desire to maintain a positive relationship, and (2) how sympathetic we find the client to be.
So this, in a nutshell, could explain the difference between me and my husband in how (or if) I charge for my expertise: my husband's a prostitute, while I give it away for free.
This post first appeared on Forbes.com.