7 Steps to Address the Pay Gap

April 2, 2019 Lynne Levy

Few addressing an audience

It’s time to start having brave conversations around the pay gap.

Did you know April 2 is Equal Pay Day? It represents how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. Women are organizing, legislation is being enacted, and discussions are occurring inside and outside the boardroom.

Companies that want to be competitive in the future of work are developing programs to address this inequity. So why does the pay gap still exist? How can it be resolved? As part of Workhuman Live 2019, an insightful panel convened for a discussion on how to close the gap through data and technology. The panel consisted of:

  • Maya Raghu, Director, Workplace Equality & Senior Counsel, National Women’s Law Center 
  • Lauren Zajac, Chief Legal Officer, Workhuman 
  • Dr. Patti Fletcher, Investor, Writer and, Gender Equity Advocate 
  • Facilitator: Laurie Ruettimann, Writer, Speaker, and Entrepreneur

Did you know that at the current rate of change, it will be 202 years until there is pay parity? This isn’t an economic issue. In fact, if women were paid the same as men, it would add 4.3 trillion dollars to the economy within a decade. In spite of this data, the gap still exists across all industries and all countries. The women who feel it the most are those who work in male-dominated industries.

We also need to stop attributing pay inequity on the fact that women start families. According to Maya, “the myth says that women choose to leave the workplace, and when they return to work, they are paid less. Is this reality? Are women genuinely leaving the workforce? Unless you are wealthy, most women have to work. The reason for the pay gap is women’s work is undervalued.”

Laurie asked each person on the panel to discuss why the problem is still there, in spite of years of effort trying to address it. Overwhelming consensus from the panel is the root cause is unconscious bias, such as:

  • Continued stereotypes that women are not as capable as men. This impacts recruitment, promotions, and bonuses.
  • The bias that women are the caregivers in the family and should stay home to care for the family. University of Massachusetts performed a study on mothers in the workplace. When women had children, they were offered less money and were seen as less capable. When men discussed their family, they received a bonus and were seen as both capable and stable.
  • The bias that men are breadwinners. The implicit assumption is made that if a woman is married and working, it’s because her family needs spending money.

Every CEO knows this is an issue and technology is available to address it. But unconscious bias slows down the process. The best way to handle the pay gap and the biases that perpetuate it is to expose the data.

The panel discussed 7 steps organizations can take to understand and take action based on data:

  • Focus: Understanding and addressing the pay gap through data should be an initiative driven by the C-Suite. It should not be an initiative left solely to HR.
  • Fund: The initiative must be well-funded in order to appropriately resolve any inequity.
  • Look at the process: Do not just look at the data. Evaluate the processes that drive the data to ensure bias is mitigated in the future.
  • Discuss: Start the discussions around pay inequity within the organization. In many organizations, pay is secret. Allow employees to talk about pay without fear of retaliation. When organizations gather and expose data, it helps take the secrecy away from discussing pay.
  • Dig deep: Look at every significant HR and compensation process to determine how it can be adjusted. As Lauren suggested, “how can the commission structure be modified to support pay equity?” 
  • Evaluate culture: This isn’t happening in a vacuum. Maya discussed the impact of power on the pay gap, including bullying and the “bro culture.”
  • Adjust: As the processes are adjusted, data should continue to be evaluated to understand the impact on the pay gap. Can the organization do further tinkering and adjustment to support minimizing the gap?

Dr. Fletcher said most decision makers keep this discussion at an academic level instead of taking any meaningful action. “The reality is we have a problem. The higher you go, the larger the problem, she said. “We need to interrupt every HR decision – who applies, who gets hired, how people are developed, and how people are managed.” 

Technology is available to support this disruption. For example, the language used in job profiles should go through algorithms to remove any bias and support middle management in making unbiased decisions related to hiring, firing, and promotions. Technology can also be leveraged to support in-the-moment reflection to move the needle on issues affected by biases. For example, when having a check-in, technology can guide managers by prompting them with unbiased check-in topics. When giving recognition, technology can prompt the user when terms tied to gender connotations are used. 

Beyond technology, resolving the pay gap starts with having brave and vulnerable conversations, driven by data, up and down the organization. Are you ready?

About the Author

Lynne Levy

Lynne Levy is a Workhuman evangelist who lives and breathes helping organizations build cultures that bring out the best in the employees. Her mantra is “do what you love, love what you do.”

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