Gender Pay Equity: 4 Ways to Move the Needle

December 12, 2018

With the right tools, conversations and opportunities, we can forge a clear path to fair pay for women.

The year 2020 marks a major milestone for women in the U.S. – the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The women’s suffrage movement actually began decades before the Civil War, so it took nearly 100 years to win this right.  It’s hard for me to imagine that my grandmother was born without the right to vote.

Since 1920, there have been so many positive changes for women, many of which have trickled into the workforce.  A higher percentage of women are becoming more educated, remaining and/or returning to the workforce after starting a family, and moving up the corporate ladder.

However, there is one element that continues to lag – compensation.

These days, it is hard to avoid discussions on the difference in pay between men and women.  We hear about it in every industry: entertainment, government, education, health care, and financial services, to name a few. In my position in Human Resources, it’s a topic I live and breathe every day.

Daunting numbers

I’m hopeful for the future, but recognize the road ahead is not smooth.  Recent research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research cites the average woman's unadjusted U.S. annual salary anywhere from 68% to 82% of that of the average man.

On a recent trip to the U.K., where Gender-Pay-Equitycompanies are required to publish gender pay differentials, I heard the story of a female news anchor who resigned when she discovered she was making 60% of what her male counterparts earned. If current trends continue, according to statusofwomendata.org, women in my hometown of Pennsylvania will not see equal pay until the year 2068.   

These numbers seem overwhelming.  How can we start to bridge this gap?

According to Pathways PA, a pay equity advocacy group in Pennsylvania, there are four things that we can do today to accelerate the narrowing of this pay gap:

  1. Get buy-in at all levels.  This often means it needs to come from the top down.   I have been lucky – I’ve not had to debate the need for equal pay for equal work. It’s been years since I heard someone say, “But he has a family to feed.” However, I do recognize that some of my peers may have a bigger challenge in front of them.
  2. Conduct a self audit. I recently heard about an organization that did an assessment on their sales team and found an 8% discrepancy in pay; they then adjusted all females to the range. Two years later, they did the same assessment and were still 8% off. How could this be? It turns out that in those two years, the company went through a number of mergers. Because the pay issue exists industry wide, they inherited the issue again, despite their previous efforts to correct it. Here at SEI, we recently created a female dashboard to assess where we are today. We had a few real surprises that will help us focus. (One surprise was how very few female applicants we have for our senior-level positions.)
  3. Teach negotiation workshops. There are numerous studies that speak to the need for women to improve their negotiation skills. In most cases, it is a societal norm – the art of negotiation generally comes more naturally to men than women. Most women I’ve talked to say their work should “speak for itself” and often they do not want to appear greedy. As young women who exceed in academics, we are taught that to get an “A,” you need to do your homework, study and show up and you will earn it. That, however, has not been my experience in the workplace. To be successful at work, you need to know how to self-promote, ask for what you want and not sell yourself short with your pay. Prepare your story, put real thought into it, and promote it to get what you deserve.
  4. Stop asking for salary history. In most situations, companies base an offer on what someone earned in their last position. If their current pay is off, then it perpetuates the discrepancy. As someone who has been recruiting for many years, it is difficult for me *not* to ask for pay history. This will be a big adjustment for me and other HR professionals, but an even bigger adjustment for many companies. As leaders and hiring managers, we must get ready to address this change head on. There are efforts underway to mandate this in Philadelphia, and I would expect to see this in many other areas of our country in the future.

It starts with conversations

I believe we can drive positive change as it relates to gender pay equity. The first step is to openly acknowledge it, start talking about it and provide tools and opportunities to help close this gap. These four strategies are a great start, but it’s just the beginning. I’m proud that we are formalizing our efforts to better support women in the workplace. We have work to do, but we are in the conversation. Will you join me?

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