Career Tips

Let’s Keep Asking the Questions

There’s a few things we can each do – simple practical things - that will make each and every pay decision aim firmly at breaking the disparity.

I’ve been reading through all the material on International Women’s Day – Woah! There’s so much out there – from the somewhat chaotic history, to its themes and pledges over the years, to what and where to participate this year.

So much to celebrate, so much still to do and so much advice. Where to start?

This year’s UN theme is the nice simple “Make it Happen”, or in its longer form “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it Up for Gender Equality”. A separate set of businesses have complimented this theme with a “Pledge for Parity”. That’s also cool.

I got to thinking about this personally. What could I do to ‘make it happen’.

Of all the areas in which we want parity, I picked ‘pay’, for no other reason than it is the most overwhelming. Despite thirty years of focus and attention, study after study reminds us we’re still 19% behind our male counterparts. We’ve insisted, reviewed, fixed, and applied detailed complex systems analysis (to ensure the feeds to pay – opportunity, career and capability – are working fairly). We’ve shored up sponsors and male voices, and we’ve on-lined toolkits. We’ve looked at the detail and reasons behind every 1% of those 19 at the top line. All good stuff, but 19% is 19%, and it’s not okay.

So what do I know that might be helpful? Well, I know a few things about pay and where pay decisions are made. Twenty-five years in HR will do that. I know reality and from that reality, I think there’s a few things we can each do – simple practical things – that will make each and every pay decision aim firmly at breaking the disparity.

What’s more, I’m applying my favourite philosophy – one bite at time, one step at a time, one decision at a time.

So, what to do? Well, it depends who you are. Here’s my thoughts –

As a woman:

Every time you get a job or a promotion, look into the whites of the eyes of the person offering you the role and ask this simple question, in the nicest possible way –

“I’m sure you’ve made (or will make) a fair offer, and I’m taking this role because I think you’re a good boss, but I’ve read so much about pay disparity, I just have to ask and make sure. Is this offer you’ve made (or making) absolutely equal to my peer group (across the team and the company), male and female?”

You see, so often pay is decided without this test – looking across the team and the organisation and making sure the offer is fair. It’s too often based on what the individual person used to earn, or is currently earning (which obviously builds on historical inequalities), or it is based on what a company thinks they can get away with. A recruiter will ‘negotiate to acceptance’ not ‘offer fair upfront’.

Assuming people are good and fair, and I like to think most are, this well worded, well-intentioned question, gets the decision-maker to do one thing – compare the pay and make sure it is gender equal.

As a man:

Almost the same question, but from a position of ‘fairness’ not self-interest –

“I’m sure you’ve made (or will make) a fair offer, but I’ve heard so much about pay disparity between the genders. Can you please check and make sure my offer is equal to my peers, male and female?”

In that question, you just asked for a pay audit that wouldn’t have happened without you. Thank you.

As a manager:

Know your team’s pay rates and how they compare to each other. Once a year, at pay review time, a manager looks across their team and is almost always surprised at the variances. Do a quarterly review, before it gets out of hand. Make sure as a manager, as a responsible decision-maker, you’ve got pay parity across male and female. In fact, across all diversity dimensions would be great. If you haven’t got parity, fix it.

Know how you change pay. So often, moving pay is on the back of a little extra work, a little opportunity, a little more energy, and too often, a little more bias and affiliation for ‘people like you’. It’s based on someone asking for pay, or threatening to leave without more pay. Write it all down. Know your decisions and place a gender lens across them all. Was that ‘extra work’ or ‘extra opportunity’ available to everybody? Are you dealing it out more often to one gender than the other? I’m not suggesting you’re purposefully unfair. I’m just suggesting that little things add up. They creep up on you. Know the little decisions you make every day and make sure they’re fair.

As an HR person:

As an HR person, and especially as a recruiter, ask yourself ‘are you offering the right pay’, or ‘the lowest you can get away with’? Are you putting the new person, or the promoted person, firmly on level playing field from Day 1? Or have you snuck them into the very bottom of a pay range and left them to fend for themselves. Have you added a whole host of excuses about how they were earning a lot less so this is a good pay (a compliment even) ‘for them’? It shouldn’t be ‘for them’. It should be fair and equitable ‘for anyone’ who took the role. As the person who creates the offer, or signs off the pay proposal, you get to decide whether the person is treated fairly or not from Day 1.

A million questions.

Finally, there’s something unhelpful about the ‘annual review’. It’s a good theory, but in reality at 19% difference in pay, when we look at the annual review across a company, is simply seen as too expensive to fix all in one go. I know nobody wants to admit that, but we all know it’s true. Most managers are pinned in with small increases that have to hold a team, motivate a team, appreciate a team, and hold a budget. Within that context, fixing a big disparity number is impossible except at the most senior budget levels, and then the numbers are so aggregated you often can’t see the reality of all the little disparities.

So, how do we stop that? We just ask more often. “I wonder if you’d mind checking and confirming that our pays are equal across genders. I don’t have anything specific to draw upon, but I know those stats are so bad nationally, that I wanted to be sure we’re not adding to them”. Simply ask your manager to look across the team and peers and make sure pay is fair.

And from all these little questions – one on one, one decision at a time, one step at a time, one bite at a time, things change. People know you’ll ask. They know you’re looking. They know the law is fair, and they’ll personally want to be fair too.

From little things, big things grow is a great Australian way to change things.

Let’s all be part of it.

Let’s keep asking.

Have you ever asked for your pay to be compared across your team?

About Rhonda

Rhonda has spent her career on the people stuff, working with some of the biggest and best companies all around the world, but she has always thought – “we could do this better. We could make work (and leadership) better for all of us – more inclusive, more real, and more ‘human’.

She fundamentally believes that inclusion, good leadership and treating each other as equals, is not only foundational for good people practices in organisations but equally of more equitable and prosperous economies and communities. In short, if we include as many people as possible in work, then we start to build the sort of community and society we all want to live in.

Rhonda is also co-founder of mwah, a Community, a Toolkit, a Think Tank, and a Boutique Consultancy, all aimed at Making Work Absolutely Human. A knowledge base and a community of all the real stuff you need to lead and work with people, today and in the future.


Similar posts