What if it’s impossible to fix the Gender Wage Gap?

I love the HR and Talent data analytics platform Visier and have been following them for years. Recently, Visier released a study called the Visier Insight’s Report: Gender Equity that I found fascinating!

Basically, Visier claims they discovered the main reason behind the gender pay gap and they titled it the “Manager Divide” (You can download the report here). The Manager Divide—an underrepresentation of women in manager positions—significantly contributes to the gender wage gap. To break it down simply, women begin to leave the workforce around age 26 to begin having babies. At this point, the wage gap begins and women never catch up!

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 2.33.25 PMYou can clearly see it in this graph from the Visier report. Men and women virtually earn the same up until age 26, in fact, women earn slightly more. At age 26 there is a huge split in the graph, and women don’t even start to close that gap until close to retirement.

Visier gives a bunch of great ways for organizations to close the gap:

– Implement the “Rooney Rule”: for every manager position you have open to fill, consider “at least one woman and one underrepresented minority” in your slate of candidates.

– Implement blind screening, removing names (or other gender identifiers) from resumes when selecting candidates for interviews.

– Increase measurement and awareness of gender equity in the rollout or implementation of HR policies, including manager promotions and hires, and compensation policies.

– Support meaningful paid parental leave that is equal for both women and men.

– Ensure it is socially acceptable for both men and women to take time off to care for their children.

All good stuff, right?

Here’s my question: if this gender wage gap phenomenon happens because of a natural cause (childbirth and rearing), how does any of this change it?

It doesn’t. The majority of women are till going to leave the workforce, on average between 26 and 36, to begin raising their family. Whether these women leave for 9 months or 9 years, they’ll return to the workforce with that much less of experience.  So, they’ll always be playing catch up, for the most part, to those men who didn’t leave to have babies and raise them.

The reality is, because of women leaving to have babies and raise families, they’ll always be a pay disparity between genders. Should it be 21% on average? No. That’s why we need to focus on the real issue at hand.

In most organizations of any size, you have females making less than men who are in the same position with basically the same experience, performance, and education level. The only reason they are making less is because they’re a female. That’s the real issue.

How do you fix this?

The old fashion way. It’s a big project. You’ll have big spreadsheets and you’ll have uncomfortable conversations with managers who gave larger raises to men, for no reason other than their bias. It’s an uncomfortable project, but it’s the only way to solve the real issue. Painstakingly one position, one department, one person at a time.

You can do high-level analysis in your organization and you’ll find a gender pay gap. That’s natural, the Visier report pointed this out. It’s going to continue to happen because we live in a society and culture where women still do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to childbirth and raising the children. You have to get into the weeds to find the real issues within your organization in terms of gender pay gap, not a 20,000-foot flyover.

Every large organization I’ve ever worked in had gender pay issues within specific positions and departments. It wasn’t rampant, but it was there. A word of caution, don’t point fingers at fault. Just work to solve the problem. It happened, how do we move forward and fix it. Placing blame will cause stalls and fights, you don’t want to be a part of at an executive level. Just find ways to quietly fix the problem and make things right.


5 thoughts on “What if it’s impossible to fix the Gender Wage Gap?

  1. Right here is the right web site for anyone who would like to understand this topic.
    You realize so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I really
    would want to?HaHa). You certainly put a fresh spin on a topic that has
    been discussed for ages. Great stuff, just great!

  2. “Here’s my question: if this gender wage gap phenomenon happens because of a natural cause (childbirth and rearing), how does any of this change it?”

    My answer would be that this question is off the mark – not entirely – for what the paper is representing. As one of the authors of the paper, let me explain. You are right that there is a biological difference between men and women that simply means that women have babies, and men cannot. But there is no biological imperative that says toddlers, small children, and pre-teens should be raised primarily by mothers. So, the point is there is a wide gulf in the implications between being the primary care giver for a family, and giving birth. We see this in the data as there is approximately a 10 year span where women have higher rates of voluntarily turnover, and their overall participation in the enterprise labor force diminishes and then recovers in the early 40s. Our question was, are women unduly shouldering the majority of the family work and is that contributing to the wage gap?
    What we looked to as follow-on research to answer this question is what happens in other countries that implement policies that make it easier for men and women to shoulder the years and years of work related to raising a family. We focused some attention on Sweden as it is an interesting case study in having implemented policies that made no difference, but when it overcame cultural and societal pressures – by creating paternal leave incentives for men – the wage gap narrowed. By contrast, Japan has very progressive policies, but didn’t put these incentives in place and the wage gap didn’t close. And this is the crux of the point – there are societal pressures, many inherited from previous generations, that we will need to address to fully overcome this problem. If we do so, our findings show the manager divide can address between 1/3 to 1/2 of the problem, which makes a big dent to change the wage gap but it also leaves a big piece that will require more vigilance and resolve.

  3. Excellent point! Maternity is indeed a partial contributing cause but it only explains a third of the gender wage gap. Even after adjusting for years experience (plus all the other possible variables), research proved that female members of the American Compensation Association still earned 14.3% less than their male peers with precisely the same credentials, backgrounds and job situations. The solutions recommended here are indeed very much needed, because the wages of childless women continue to lag far behind those of men in comparable positions.

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