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The HR Professional’s Guide to Addressing The Gender Pay Gap

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“The gender pay gap is overblown.”

“There are laws against pay discrimination.”

“I have HR and Payroll software that makes sure I don’t pay unfairly.”

If you found yourself responding similarly upon reading the title of this piece, give me a few minutes. I’ve heard versions of your quibbles; I took them into consideration while drafting this post, even using them as a guideline for my response.

Stay for awhile. Read this post. Share it when you’re done.

The gender pay gap is real, persistent, and not as straightforward as you might think, and there’s a lot that HR professionals can do to help mitigate it.

In order to talk about—and move toward solving—the problem, we have to start with knowledge.

Is the gender pay gap still a thing?

Short answer: Yes.

The long answer is more complicated. First, we need to clarify what the gender pay gap actually is.

There’s a statistic thrown around pretty often that a woman typically makes 76 cents for every dollar a man makes. That’s not exactly correct, and there’s a lot more to the gender wage gap than that.

The 76 cent statistic comes from raw data—essentially, someone took the median U.S. salary for male employees and compared to to the median salary for female employees, and came up with a 24-cent gap.

But: that number doesn’t control for factors such as type of job, time spent in the industry, general career experience, and other mitigating factors.

When you control for those factors, the pay gap shrinks to 98 cents to the dollar. This number applies when you’re looking at women and men with the exact same level of seniority, in the same job, with the same background and experience. While it’s closer, than 24 cents, it’s still not equal pay for equal work.

This control reveals something else: women are, as a whole, far less likely to hold highly paid upper-level jobs, which explains the massive statistical disparity between controlled and uncontrolled wage gap data.

We’re not done yet. That 76 cent statistic? It also fails to control for ethnicity—for Black and Hispanic women, the gender pay gap is even wider.

Visualization of the gender pay gap (2015, Mashable)

One final note concerns the very language used to explain the wage gap, which is male-centric. What if we switch things around? For every dollar a woman makes, a man makes $1.24. When you change the language—but not the facts—the disparity becomes clearer than ever.

But not at my business!

It’s time to hit you with another fact: 98% of occupations display some level of a gender wage gap. Odds are that your business is included in that figure.

It’s easiest (and preferable) to think that we’re above issues of inequality, but until we conduct a thorough examination, none of us can claim that for sure.

So, where do you begin? Start with an internal audit. Look at the salaries of all employees, compare them to market value, and compare men’s salaries to women’s. The most likely situation—statistically speaking—is that you have more of a wage gap than you realized.

If not, great! You’re part of the 2%! But, you’ll never know until you look.

A caveat: I’m not saying that you, your bosses, or your company are inherently sexist or created gender inequality intentionally. Far from it.

The gender pay gap is caused by numerous factors, each of which is easy to write off in isolation. Take a look at the stats:

  • Jobs that are typically stereotyped as female or feminine tend to be devalued.
  • Having a family makes women less attractive hires, while making men more attractive hires.
  • Women often don’t negotiate salaries for fear of being iced out in their jobs, leading to a widening year-over-year pay gap.
  • Women are more likely be hired for lower-paying jobs, while being vastly underrepresented in high-paying jobs.

Senior manager vs CEO gender disparity at Fortune 500 companies (2017, Fortune)

It’s surprisingly easy to trip and fall into a wage gap. Take a good look at that internal audit’s findings, then act.

What can HR professionals do about the pay gap?

A lot, actually! Here are four tips to get you started.

1. Be transparent

One way to take action is salary transparency. In the U.S., discussing how much money we make is an entrenched cultural taboo. This taboo doesn’t help anyone except people who want to benefit from tilted negotiations, and it’s especially harmful to women.

2. Stop negotiating

Another step HR professionals can take to help reduce the pay gap is to cut negotiations and insist on paying market value. Women tend to negotiate salaries less often and ask for less money than men when they do.

Cut the negotiations altogether, and elect to pay all employees the market value for their jobs. Create a simple equation that accounts for market value, years of experience, and location. Make this equation public to all employees and potential hires, which will ultimately cast you as more transparent and trustworthy.

Using such a formula for all employees helps ax the wage gap before it has a chance to take hold. (Seriously—it worked great for Buffer.)

3. Ignore identifiers

You can take steps to hire and promote more women by utilizing blind applications. Find a way to ignore names and genders on job applications, both incoming and internal.

Some applicant tracking systems offer features that will do this automatically. If you lack such a system, have someone outside of the hiring process print off applications and black out names and gender with a marker (a good intern task).

4. Support women

Find ways to support the women in your company. This is a broad action that can encompass a lot of ideas, so start by brainstorming actionable changes that would positively impact the daily lives of women across your business.

One idea? Offer family support. A common reason women are passed over for jobs or promotions is because they have children, despite a lack of evidence that having kids makes women less dedicated to their jobs.

In practice, this could look like pushing for an on-site company daycare or creating a benefits package that subsidizes child care services. Provide paid maternity leave, and consider expanding the program to include paternity leave.

Encourage female employees to strive for promotions and stretch goals through workshops, support groups, and mentorship programs centered on professional women helping other professional women in their careers.

What if I’m already doing all this?

In that case, let me be the first to tell you that you might be right: your workplace is different, and has taken action to be hyper aware of the gap and bridge it however you can. That’s great!

But, even if you’re the most vigilant, careful company in the world, the gender pay gap is the type of issue that needs constant monitoring. If you’re not actively taking steps to stay ahead of internal bias, it’s easy for small things to start slipping.

Will this really work?

The wage gap is narrowing, if slowly. Some countries have even passed legislation requiring companies to publicly report employee salaries to help close the wage gap. It’s vocal action from workers and companies that care about their female employees that effects changes such as these.

Taking the time to encourage the women in your office to go after promotions, making an effort to hire and promote more women, and calling out office sexism in any form (I’m a fan of the “We Don’t Do That Here” method) are personal steps you can take in HR to help inspire change.

What now?

By reading this, you’ve taken the first step toward becoming a better talent management professional. A round of applause!

Keep pushing. Keep educating yourself. Spread your knowledge. Comment below or tweet me @CapterraHalden if you’d like to chat. Share what you’ve noticed and done in your own workplace about the gender pay gap.

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About the Author

Halden Ingwersen

Halden Ingwersen writes about HR and eLearning at Capterra. She’s a graduate of Agnes Scott College and a TEDx presenter. You can follow her on Twitter @CapterraHalden, just don’t get her started about her zombie survival plan.

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