A few weeks ago, we recognized Equal Pay Day, the day of the year many women have to work until to earn the same amount their male counterparts earned the prior year. This year, it still took until April 10 for women to earn equal pay (keep in mind that date moves even further into the year when you compare what women of color earn when compared to white, non-hispanic men). While the fact that many women are still being undervalued at work is extremely frustrating, it’s not such a simple problem with a simple solution. Unfortunately, issues surrounding equal pay require institutional and cultural changes that will take time to be effective. In the interim, there are some simple, more immediate solutions that might make a big difference.
- Start at the foundation. If the labor, entry level jobs, and other support roles that are the foundation of our economy provide equal and sustainable living wages, the poverty rate for all working women would be cut in half.
- Transparency. Values should be assigned to specific work and work alone. The more transparency there is about the value of work, the more likely gender (and race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, etc.) will become irrelevant in compensation decisions. Value ranges that acknowledge education, experience, and exceptional versus acceptable performance should also be outlined clearly, but generally speaking, transparency and policies around equal pay for equal work should be implemented.
- Communication. Encourage others in your industry to speak openly about compensation and include everyone in the conversation. The internet has made so much information available, but nothing can replace one-on-one communication. If you want to know the value of your role, ask. Ask your colleagues, your boss, and your employer. If you uncover compensation discrimination, you may consider consulting with an employment attorney to discuss how best to address the situation.
- Cooperation. The African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” is just as true here as anywhere else. Individually, many women are making progress in narrowing the gap; but, those individual compensation packages aren’t really having broad impact. If men and women work together, regardless of color or creed, we will go a lot farther, not just a lot faster.
I know that there are policy changes and other steps that can be taken, but it’s people that make policy work. Let’s start by changing small behaviors that have a big impact and we might find that change pushes through the inertia more effectively.