The continuing complexity of the pay equity issue

The issue of pay equity remains one of massive significance for employees and businesses alike. While the current era is – sometimes accurately – cited as one that has outgrown certain outmoded ideas of what work is worth when performed by one gender rather than another, there are still many rivers to cross before pay equity is a concrete reality. 

For business leaders, pay equity initiatives are something worth striving for from any perspective, including as a measure meant to galvanize the bottom lines of success and ROI. It's important to understand the full scope of the issue as it stands in the second quarter of 2019 and the foreseeable future. Only then will it be possible for you to implement the necessary measures to instill objective equity across your organization's payroll. 

The true scope of the equity issue 

Before you consider instituting any new salary policies in your organization, make note of several critical points regarding the pay equity issue and what it encompasses. Among the most salient of these is the simple truth that pay equity doesn't just apply to salary. In an interview with Fortune, Katie Donovan, a renowned consultant who oversees the firm Equal Pay Negotiations, explained that three major issues stand out when approaching equity:

  • Jobs performed by women have traditionally been paid or valued less than jobs that are traditionally handled by men. 
  • Women in equivalent or very similar jobs to men usually receive less pay than male counterparts.
  • Women don't receive promotions at the same rate as men and in some cases aren't even considered for positions higher up the ladder. 

Additionally, individuals belonging to other historically marginalized or ostracized groups – African and Latin Americans, the LBGTQ community, people with disabilities and numerous others – have borne the brunt of unequal pay and may be subject to its burden today. Assuming that pay equity is merely a binary could end up being a serious mistake. Devise new pay initiatives that have full, unmitigated equality as their ultimate goal. 

Misconceptions of intent 

In her discussion, Donovan made a point of stating that pay gaps – and, in turn, the need to correct them through pay equity – may not necessarily stem from any sort of malice or conscious prejudice on the part of anyone in a given organization. Disparities in pay connected to gender, race or other aspects of identity are often the result of leadership operating according to the existing status quo and not stopping to examine what might be wrong with it. In the long run, this is more problematic than individual cases of ill will because it has allowed for inequity to persist even as outright sexism diminishes in the overall culture.

Value of audits or reviews 

According to Campaign US, conducting annual audits or reviews of your organization's salary practices is an excellent place to start if you aim to establish genuine pay equity. In most cases it won't be feasible to change your existing salary guidelines at the drop of a hat. Putting your business under the microscope of a comprehensive audit may ultimately reveal that there are no pay gaps of any statistical significance; it's not a probable outcome, but if you find none, your work is done – at least for now.

If notable gaps do exist between employee demographics beyond objective measures like tenure, past experience or significant job success, a review will reveal them at the most granular level and help you figure out what specifically must change. It's also worth noting that your company doesn't need to instantly correct its entire pay gap in one fell swoop. Campaign US suggested focusing on individual disparities as they arise in the review and then instituting change as necessary. Also, social, economic and political factors entirely outside your control may undo some of your work between this review and the next one, making it even more important to implement annual audits as an ongoing measure. 

Written, clear equity guidelines 

When you have realized which pay gaps exist and decided to eliminate them, it's important to integrate these policy alterations into your corporate handbook with clear language that explains their meaning. Writing for Corporate Counsel, Brian D. Murphy and Jonathan Stoler of the New York law firm Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP explained that documenting your new policies in this manner reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings among your workers and also helps fulfill certain legal obligations so that you remain in clear compliance with all germane federal, state or municipal employment-related laws.