What is Pay Equity?
Worldwide, women make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. Closer home, in the United States, women earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. It bothers me to see that for the same level of output, we are paid lower than men. Is it because we are less competent? Is it because we have to leave the office at 5:00 p.m. to pick up kids? Is it because we need at least 2-3 months to bond with our newborns and also allow our body to heal?
Simply put, pay equity is equal pay for equal work.
Shouldn’t women then be paid the same as men for their contributions? Isn’t it fair to start asking these questions that will pave a better and brighter future for this and the generations of women to come? It is our responsibility as women to build awareness of this issue and also contribute in our own way to fix this inequality.
Why does Pay Inequality Exist?
There are several causes for pay inequity and it is important to understand the underlying reasons to dissect this issue further.
Women and Career Choices
Traditionally women have taken on care-giving roles that tend to pay lower than corporate jobs. Early on in their career, women find it easier to work without having to worry about responsibilities. At different stages of life with marriage, children, aging parents, women tend to take on more responsibility at home. As a result, they tend to leave the workforce or opt for part time/consulting jobs that provide them flexibility for household responsibilities. These responsibilities reduce their earning capacity.
In my experience, I have also seen organizations where representation of women goes down in the management ranks. The reasons could vary from lack of desire to take on more responsibility at work so that there is adequate time for household responsibility; completely dropping out of the workforce due to lack of flexible work schedules, poor managerial experience, or just inability to network for the roles of their choice or for promotions.
I am a strong advocate of choice in terms of women making the decision on pursuing a full time career or choosing to stay at home. I am also a strong advocate of finding a way to fulfill your dreams in the corporate world, if that is what we want as women. When we want to pursue those dreams, do we need to break a glass barrier? If yes, then we have a problem to be addressed.
There is adequate data and research that points to the fact that there are several unexplainable factors behind the gender pay gap. Have you ever encountered a situation where a job offer was turned down because you may not have been willing to travel? Were you ever declined a promotion because you were expecting a child and would have liked to take a three-month maternity break while a male counterpart was ready immediately? Were you ever asked to bring a male CEO to talk about funding with investors as a woman entrepreneur?
In the United States there has been progress due to labor laws and focus on discrimination. The 2016 pay equity bill prohibits employers from asking salary history for job applicants. In 2018, California became the first state in the United States to mandate at least one woman director in Corporate Boards. That mandate did provide more traction for companies to lead by example and add more women directors to the Board. There are multiple studies that show that organizations with female directors bring more financial value and long term sustainability for the company.
What can we do to address pay equity?
Each one of us has a role and responsibility to make the future and experiences of women more positive in the Corporate world.
Influence Policy Making at the Government level
This is an initiative that requires contribution from all facets of the society. Just as women need to enhance their skills and make their voices heard, men need to equally understand the importance of these issues and the role they can play in making a difference. Policy makers and lawmakers need to put systemic interventions in place to ensure that this problem is not perpetuated further. Asking organizations to report their gender pay differences is a step in the right direction.
Investing in educational opportunities and resources for women will also go a long way in solving this problem. Education plays a big role in helping society understand that capabilities are more important than who we are a.k.a. man or woman. It also allows us to see through the unconscious bias that we have built over a period of time due to our upbringing, societal influence or simply seeing some practices as accepted over a period of time.
Influence practices and programs within Organizations
Organizations have a big role in creating an environment and culture that supports working women. Ensuring that leave policies are designed to support employees and their needs; parental leave policies and resources that allow working mothers to take the needed time off and also support their transition back to work. Flexible work schedules that support parents to share responsibility at home while still continuing to be productive at work.
Encourage training within the organization where all managers understand the importance of building gender diversity within the team, respecting women’s needs and treating them as equals while making decisions on performance evaluation and career development for their teams. Also fostering an environment where women are not concerned about sexual harassment that has a large impact on their ability to even stay at work.
Review the entire employee life-cycle from hiring to departure and consider how decisions are made by managers and where bias can potentially creep in. During hiring, managers like a reflection of their own self into the team. Providing sound guidance around interviewing practices which supports objective and diverse hiring is important. Review performance evaluation for employees which is objective and goal driven as opposed to gut feelings; pay decisions that are tied to goal achievement and future potential rather than based on employees who network better with the manager. Building pay transparency within the organization will help in restoring the confidence of women that they are being treated fairly.
Establishing a strong focus on pay analytics with a specific lens on gender will allow some of the existing issues to surface. Organizations can then put plans in place to address these issues and build ongoing rigor around these practices.
Coaching and Mentorship
As more and more women take on senior roles within the organization, it is important for them to coach and mentor younger women professionals so they can successfully navigate a long term professional career. Most importantly, learn and teach the art of skillful negotiation, especially when it comes to pay, so that women are not penalized for being shy or apprehensive of asking. Be their role model and champions so that women are able to navigate the right networks and connections that help them progress their careers further.
My parting thoughts for all readers is to reflect on the lines below. Each one of us can make a difference.
“Little drops of water, Little grains of sand, Make the mighty ocean, And the beauteous land”Excerpt from the poem, Little Drops of Water by Mrs J.A. Carney
Author: Rajani Koduganti is an accomplished leader in corporate human resources. She has led compensation discussions and decisions for companies based out of Switzerland or Silicon Valley and start-up to Fortune 500. An avid Bollywood dancer, mother of three adorable kids, and an enthusiast for all things green and brown, we are thrilled when she sports her espresso Vertara Triad Carry-All. In her words all she needs is her morning coffee and her Triad Carry-All to stay laser focused at work and equally energetic through the day. Rajani is a Vertara True Star and we are proud to feature her views in our fall blog!
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