A crucial lesson from sports is that you have to aim for the target that you want to hit. Aim for the basket, the strike zone or in-between the goal posts. Set as your goal the finish line, not the brick wall at the 18 mile mark.
The same lesson is true in work. If women want to earn equal pay for equal work, then we need to focus on the things that will, in fact, achieve that goal. One example of such an effort is the fact that more women are getting better educated – at the undergraduate levels and, increasingly, at graduate levels. They are acquiring competence in the tough fields of math, science, engineering, economics, finance, law and technology. A better education in fields in great demand has a clear and present impact on women’s ability to negotiate higher salaries in those professions.
By contrast, consider whether or not any of the following efforts realistically hit the target of women earning equal pay for equal work:
- scheduling an Equal Pay Day: our very own special holiday preferably scheduled when Congress is in session;
- commemorating International Women’s Day;
- celebrating Women’s History month;
- one more nonprofit national coalition of women’s (AND civil rights) organizations which will “advocate and raise awareness;”
- pass legislation “meant” to address underlying discrimination.
Those who assume that “a hostile environment” and discrimination MUST be the only explanation of pay differences probably are aiming at a target that may have no impact on potential incomes or earnings profiles for women at work. Do laws really change people? Or do you also need a host of people also on your side enforcing those laws in the workplace? If you don’t have the enforcement structure in place, how does one more law help?
There are other, better, real targets that are far more likely to produce change in pay status for women. One clear fact is that human resources personnel are dominantly women. Yet, how could it be that only 28% of 600 major global firms even track gender differences in pay? What are 72% of the human resources departments at major global firms doing to determine if differences in pay even exist or not? It’s just a damn sort field, for crying out loud. How hard is it to answer this question to our own satisfaction? Human resource managers don’t even need to report this information to anyone – all they need to do is answer the question to their own satisfaction: “How are we doing as a firm?”
Human resource managers also should be intimately aware that the SEC’s new public company risk disclosure requirements mandate an awareness of possible sources of corporate (and thus shareholder) risk from this source – including the potentially embarrassing risk of lawsuits (class action or otherwise) stemming from unexplainable salary differentials the exist by gender or other alleged sources of potential discrimination. Should HR managers do the most fundamental examination of potential class action lawsuit risks such as Dukes v. Wal Mart, based on a company’s failure to properly oversee management development, promotions, and salary/reward structures?
Is a company’s workplace “a hostile environment” or are the women unprepared to negotiate their full and fair compensation? If women dominate within company HR offices, is that not the most appropriate forum from which to gather specific evidence of what patterns are statistically supported? Wouldn’t HR officers be better judges of those issues than Census surveys conducted once every ten years?
Why do women diffuse their activities by piggy-backing on other dissimilar civil rights movements when the very specific issue is getting paid what you’re worth, not a civil, social or voting right? Are women afraid to bid in the marketplace, alone, on their own merits? Do women perceive they need the power of a group in order to negotiate what they are worth as independent economic actors?
Which is more likely to have an impact on pay differentials:
- nonprofit advocacy of a bill in Congress arguing that equal pay is a nice, desirable goal?
- a for-profit pay-tracking and -scoring company, comparable to risk and compensation “auditors” who advise HR departments how to avoid lawsuits relating to unsubstantiated salary differentials?
Aren’t the benefits, influence and potential power of the second much more proximate and relevant than the former? Which is more likely to hit the target of eliminating unsupported pay differentials?
If companies can make money surveying firms’ executive compensation salary structures, why can’t women figure out how to make money – and make a difference – by actually measuring salary differences and consulting with women to enable them (through training and negotiation strategy development) to overcome unacceptable differences?
Unless, of course, the woman is still expecting to kiss the frog and turn him into a prince charming who will take care of her.
Aim for the target you want to hit, and you increase the chances you will succeed.