One Silicon Valley HR leader's take on the pay equity problem
- Acknowledging the presence of a gender pay gap in your workforce is just the beginning of solving the problem, Zenefits Chief People Officer Beth Steinberg told HR Dive in an interview on April 10, observed as Equal Pay Day by businesses and organizations in the U.S.
- Steinberg said that buy-in from executive leadership is key to successfully combating pay inequities in the workplace, pointing to her own past experiences as well as the example set by CEOs like Salesforce's Marc Benioff. Steinberg added that access to correct data often proves to be an obstacle for organizations struggling to recognize and correct the problem.
- "Fair pay starts with leadership, but it's ultimately a team effort," Steinberg said. "All leaders of a company are responsible for fair compensation processes and need to understand how compensation is calculated. Open dialogue and company-wide knowledge are critical for bridging the communications gap that currently exists between employers and employees."
This year's iteration of Equal Pay Day struck a particular cord with HR thought leaders and practitioners for several reasons, but two trends stood out: 1) the birth of the #MeToo movement and related support for female voices speaking out against discrimination, harassment and other ways in which women are disproportionately held back in the workplace; and 2) the variety of examples set by employers who have addressed pay gaps head-on in the past year.
The subject is gradually becoming more transparent, Steinberg said. "The conversation around compensation is changing. Employees are starting to ask the right questions, but the responsibility is on employers to educate their employees about their pay philosophy."
Critics of the Equal Pay Day holiday, and of movements in support of pay equity generally, suggest that media and popular portrayals of the gender pay gap inaccurately depict the disparities between men and women who hold similar job titles without regard for other factors like experience and educational attainment.
Indeed, statistics indicate that pay comparisons based on men and women at similar career levels show a smaller gap (7%, according to Korn Ferry), which diminishes further when comparing employees who share the same company and same function. But U.S. women are more likely to perform higher amounts of unpaid work than men (i.e. childcare), and men are more likely to hold higher-paying senior-level positions, according to an analysis by The Guardian. And it's that unexplained gap, even when accounting for job type, education and experience, that really plagues workplaces.
Career specialization may also be a factor, a Zenefits report said. Although 57% of master's degrees earned in 2016 were earned by women, women with master's degrees earned 56% less on average than their male counterparts within their first five years of work. In its analysis, Zenefits noted that workers in fields like business and engineering "tend to have more opportunity and higher salaries than those who pursue education or caretaking positions — roles traditionally filled by women."
Working to eliminate bias in the discussion shouldn't be overlooked, Steinberg said. Though there might be areas where a discrepancy makes sense, employers still owe it to their workers to thoroughly vet pay practices.
"The best systems include a set structure of ranges, based on solid methodology that is easy for employees to understand and discuss," Steinberg added. "When a compensation system is in place and visible, it naturally makes conversations about compensation less taboo; the system serves as a framework to spark discussion, and employees understand that the company puts meaningful consideration into determining pay."
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