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Your Role in Addressing the Gender Pay Gap

I’d be remiss if I didn’t share with you how many ways my heart has broken in the past few weeks, as I watch my beloved India contend with a tragic, humanitarian crisis. So many dear family members and friends are navigating unspeakable tragedy right now.

I urge you to read. Donate. Speak up against patents that prioritize profits over humans. Whatever you do, please don’t look away. India’s Covid crisis is yet another reminder why inclusion, equity and access is not selective. Either we all have it, or none of us do.

And so, onward I go in my quest for all of us to become more inclusive leaders.

I’ve been outraged, comforted by the solidarity...and right back to being outraged again with the outpouring of your stories in the week since I wrote about my worst negotiation story.

I can’t believe so many women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ and disabled communities have experienced such awful and relentless pushback when negotiating.

I mean, I can, but it really is devastating how impossible it is to get compensated appropriately if you’re not a cis, white, straight man.

So today’s letter is divided into two parts. I’ll start by talking about one way we could all do our part to fix the gender wage gap. Then, because inevitably whenever I address this topic, someone who needs to challenge me on whether the pay gap exists at all, I’ll talk about the data that shows it.

Read either part first. Take action from both.

Transparency is One Way to Reduce the Gap

We all need to be more transparent about numbers we have access to.

If you’re a hiring manager, say, “this role pays X. The last person we hired with your experience got paid X.” If you’re hiring a speaker, say, “our speaker budget is X. Our last speaker was paid X.”

If you’re hiring a new marketing person and they’re low-balling themselves (because women and people of color are taught to), I challenge you to say to them, “I paid my last marketing person X or my budget is X. I insist we uplevel you from what you’re asking for.”

If you’re in charge of putting an employee up for promotion, share that the role includes a salary bump of X and that they can also be eligible for Y benefits. If you’re recommending someone for an opportunity, ask the requester, “could you share your budget/the salary range before I connect you with my contact?” You have less to lose by asking than the referee.

When we are transparent with the numbers in our immediate purview–whether you’re in charge of hiring for hundreds of roles or are a business owner hiring individual contractors––we are all doing our part in working to level a playing field that’s been historically uneven. Read more here if you really want your blood to boil––and this is just in the United States.

Commit even more to transparency if you’re from a historically privileged community and gender. As my favorite podcast Battle Tactics From Your Sexist Workplace advises, we need white men to tell us what they earn. Let’s stop making it a secret.

We all lose when we operate from the hyper-capitalist model that money is a zero-sum game. Firstly, addressing the pay gap against historically marginalized communities leads to economic growth and innovation. Paying women equally would add $512 billion to the U.S. GDP (and significantly more in countries where the gender gap is more pronounced). Secondly, when you pay people their true worth, they’re more likely to be engaged, productive and loyal.

While capitalism tells us to feel satisfaction from low-balling someone in the moment (and having them accept a lower offer grudgingly), in the long-term, it costs us much, much more when they’re disengaged or feel undervalued. Great people are hard to find and even harder to replace.

It’s the right thing to do. It’s good business. It’s good karma. (Take it from someone who read about karma from one of its original sources, the Bhagavad Gita.) Most of all, it's inclusive leadership.

Is the Gender Wage Gap Real?

In the U.S., there’s some quibbling over the exact disparity between what women and men are paid for equal work. You’ve likely heard 77-80 cents to the white man’s dollar. That’s for all women, when you don’t disaggregate by race. It drops down to 63(ish) cents for Black women, 60(ish) cents for Native women and 54(ish) cents for Latina women. And while high-earning Asian women drive up the AAPI wage gap to 85(ish) cents, when you take a nuanced view of the data, that drops down to 52 cents made by Burmese women compared to white men in comparable jobs. As it's Asian Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage MonthThe “ish” denotes which study and which year you look at.

Regardless of the exact number, women are consistently paid less than white men for the same work—across industries, professions, qualifications and locations. More importantly, men are likely to be in higher-paid professions and roles, so they earn more money than women in general.

Around the world, the statistics are just as grim. Differences in pay and employment opportunities result in large lifetime income gaps for women, according to U.N. data.

Why the Gender Gap Persists

One of the biggest obstacles to resolving the gender pay gap is denial.

Most CEOs or senior leaders believe their companies would never discriminate by gender. No, their company is different—men and women must be paid equally for equal work, they think.

Many senior leaders get away with their denial because they haven’t looked closely at their data. If you don’t see disaggregated data like what I’ve shared here, you can blissfully ignore that race and gender and other identity factors influence compensation.

Avoiding your data is no excuse.

The fact is, women are largely paid less than men regardless of qualifications and capability, across all levels of the organization and around the world.

Even the highest-paid female executives take home an average of $5.3 million dollars—or 18% less than their male peers in the S&P 500. Add in race and other marginalized identities and the numbers are grim and needless to say deeply unfair.

So, here’s my challenge to you: Share your numbers. Don’t be a data denier. Be transparent in every interaction. That’s the only way to put your money where your mouth is.

Do you know someone in charge of hiring or managing people? Are you friendly with some CEOs? Send them this post and start a conversation. Change must come from all levels, especially the top.


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