The Biggest Barrier To Women's Advancement At Work? It's Not Just The Wage Gap

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At last week’s UN WOMEN event, the Global Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship Forum, women (and some men) gathered to discuss the workplace challenges faced by women around the world.

The forum was emceed by Christina Vuleta, vice president of Forbes women’s digital network, and Ruthie Ackerman, deputy editor of Women@Forbes.

Kristy Wallace, the CEO of Ellevate, a global professional women’s network, led a discussion about what companies can do to break through barriers to women’s advancement.

“We won't truly see equality until the distribution of income within a company is 50% men and 50% women,” said Wallace. She was paraphrasing a comment made earlier in the day by Joelle Tanguy, director of the strategic partnership division at UN Women. “It’s about the wage gap, but leadership and authority also need to be equally distributed among the sexes.”

 

We still have a long way to go toward closing the leadership gap.

Women currently hold 26 (5.2%) of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies, according to a Catalyst report from August 2017. On the Fortune 500, there are 32 female CEOs. Although this is the highest proportion of female CEOs since Fortune began keeping track 63 years ago, it’s still a paltry 6.4%.

The wage gap isn’t closing anytime soon, either.

“Data seems black and white, but it’s the interpretation of data that can create narrative,” noted Wallace. “We’ve seen it in Silicon Valley, when a company says ‘we have no pay gap,’ and then employees are doing crowdsourced efforts to dig in. It’s like hold on, we do have a pay gap.”

Google is being sued by three former employees who allege that female workers are systematically underpaid. The search giant denies any wrongdoing.

Panelist Lorraine Hariton, senior vice president of global partnerships at the New York Academy of Science, said that issues around fair pay are quite well known. What matters is “whether leadership wants to make it a priority to change. Leaders need to believe [equal pay] will make their companies more effective.”

“Most companies have a compensation department to make sure people are paid fairly,” said panelist Ali Marano, executive director for technology for social good, diversity and inclusion at JPMorgan Chase. “Having a commitment to an annual audit process for your compensation practices is critical.”

Clearly, achieving pay equality isn’t as simple as having a compensation department or an audit process. If it was, Google wouldn’t be facing a class action lawsuit.

Companies do need to step up their efforts to pay their employees fairly. In addition to an audit process, Lydia Frank, vice president of content strategy at PayScale, recommends using market data to determine appropriate pay, and adjusting employee pay when necessary. She also suggests talking with employees about what data the company uses to set pay bands, and where an employee falls within their pay band and why.

As for employees who want to take matters into their own hands, negotiating for a raise — or a better offer — are always options on the table.

If you suspect you are underpaid, start asking around. A good rule of thumb is to speak to half a dozen people who would know what someone in your position makes. That could be someone with the same title, someone who’s either just left the company or been recently promoted, or someone who hires for your role. Be sure to ask three women and three men, since chances are the men’s salaries are higher.

If you find out your coworkers are making significantly more than you, you’ll know it’s time to have a discussion about your salary.

This post originally appeared in Women@Forbes, where Alexandra Dickinson is a contributor. She writes about how to use a negotiation mindset to achieve your goals.
 

 

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Alexandra Dickinson

Alexandra Dickinson is the CEO and founder of Ask For It, a boutique consulting company working to close the gender wage gap by effecting change at both the institutional and individual level. We work with companies, schools, organizations and individuals through a combination of trainings, workshops and consulting. Our goal is for women and men to be paid based on their talents and skills, regardless of gender, and for our company to have been an important part of that change.