It’s been nearly 60 years since the Equal Pay Act of 1963, and while women have made major strides both in the workforce and in higher education, the gains are far from equitable.
Currently, women earn an average of 82% of what men earn, a pay gap that has remained relatively unchanged for 20 years, according to the Pew Research Center. For women of color, this wage gap is even wider. While there are many speculations around why this pay gap still exists, research shows that enduring biases and corporate complacency are some of the main factors holding us back from reaching gender parity.
In honor of Equal Pay Day, four Chief Members share the barriers women face when it comes to earning fair pay, and the policies and practices leaders should implement now to really move the needle forward.
On Pushing Past Historical Barriers
When thinking about the pay gap today, Chief Member Brooke Hamrick says it’s hard not to look at history as the biggest driver in ongoing disparities.
“We’re trying to overcome generations of historical inequities — that all impact the pay gap in one way or another,” says Hamrick, an executive sales and marketing leader who most recently served as Head of Growth at compensation platform Pequity. “From the right to vote, to work, to have legal protection against discrimination involving women’s issues — this is a real mountain to climb.”
Over time, she says, “women have been viewed as less important than men socially, economically, politically, legally, and culturally, with even greater impact to women of color, LGBTQIA+ women, and women with other diverse identities.” Due to decades of inequitable treatment, Hamrick explains how women face limited access to certain industries, jobs, and titles, which impact pay.
“This has all contributed to gender biases that still exist today — they haven’t just disappeared with each battle won,” she says.
In fact, when looking at the top ranks, women only make up 25% of C-Suite positions, which is still a significant increase from 17% in 2015. Despite the bump in representation in leadership roles, those same women face the largest executive pay gap since 2012 due to being overrepresented in lower-paying C-Suite roles, which offer less salary and less equity-based pay.
On Whether New Pay Transparency Laws Are Effective
For Chief Member Dylani Herath, who works as a Chief Technology Officer, she says pay transparency laws do nothing for closing the pay gap because of the loose stipulations around how salaries are reported. “The current policies have allowed employers to publish broad and unrealistic salary bands, which is not helpful [in the pursuit of] equal pay for equal work.”
Hamrick agrees that stricter parameters need to be placed around pay ranges in order to see change. But, she says pay transparency laws can be effective with helping to at least normalize salary conversations at work.
“We need to gain comfort in talking about what was once considered a very taboo subject,” she says. “Pay, religion, politics have all been historically viewed as ‘personal’ and inappropriate subjects to bring into the workplace. This has supported imbalance in a secretive way that needs to be eliminated. Many of these new laws still fall short of real transparency and accountability, but forward movement is better than no movement. To make a larger impact, we need stronger legislation, like the Paycheck Fairness Act, to be prioritized now.” Passing this act will help to close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act and ensure that women can challenge pay discrimination and hold their employers accountable without facing retaliation.
On Creating a Systematic Approach to Equitable Compensation
To make real progress on closing the gender wage gap, Hamrick says more companies need to not just talk about their goals, but implement actual systems that will hold them accountable to paying women fairly.
“We need companies to be intentional about ensuring women are paid equitably.” She says this can be boiled down into three steps:
Chief Member Emiliana Guereca, Executive Director at Women’s March, adds that companies should also conduct regular pay audits to ensure that gaps don’t widen with new hires and promotions. Doing this, she says, has helped her own organization identify their blind spots.
“Post-Covid we had to revamp and re-evaluate how employee promotions were handled, and what we found was that remote staffers were often overlooked for promotions,” she says. “So we brought in consultants to give us a big-picture view.”
On Fighting Low-Balled Negotiations
Contrary to popular belief, women ask for raises as often as men but research shows that they face far more resistance in getting what they want, which can lead to lowered confidence in negotiations. To fix this, Chief Member Deanna Ransom, President and Executive Director at Women in Revenue, says more companies should implement what she calls a “voluntary equal pay practice.”
Instead of going along with a low-ball offer, Ransom says companies should have a policy that requires HR leaders to increase a candidate’s salary package so that it matches that of the other individuals already in the role. Doing this will ensure that wage gaps don’t widen when new hires are added to an organization.
Without a federal law that bans the salary history question or that requires stricter transparency in salary disclosures, Ransom says that implementing this simple yet effective policy “could be a legacy game changer for families and communities at large, which is real corporate social responsibility."
We asked leaders in our network to share their hard-earned wisdom with women who are following in their footsteps. Check out their advice, or take the leap and apply for membership.
– Stephanie Davis, Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer at Volkswagen Group of America