Closing the Gap

Earlier this week, I wrote about the Gender Wage Gap. With the current rate of change staying equal, the World Economic Forum estimates the global gender wage gap won’t be closed for another 170 years. No one has ever accused me of being patient but I don’t think I’m alone when I refuse to accept that as a reasonable pace. So, how might one go about kick starting change?

What can government do?

Governments around the world are rightfully looking at the gender wage gap as an impediment to their economic growth. A few governments have enacted legislation to start to close the gap.

Equal pay for equal work has been the law of the land in Canada for decades. But, with cultural norms surrounding silence over income, it’s very difficult for people to know whether or not the law is being enforced. This lack of transparency is one area that governments are focusing on in efforts to close the gap.

New rules in the UK are forcing companies with more than 250 employees to disclose the average pay for men and women by April 2018. The data will be available in a government database and companies are encouraged to create an Action Plan to close any gaps. As of September, only 77 of the 7,850 employers covered by the rules have published their data.

New York City recently banned employers from asking job applicants their past salaries. The gender wage gap is easily compounded when employers base their salary offers on past salaries and this latest law forces employers to evaluate salaries on the value of the job itself.

Many also see minimum wage increases as a way to improve the gap. Women aged 25-54 account for 22% of Canada’s minimum wage workers – more than double the proportion of men in the same age group and therefore women see more benefits from an increased minimum wage than men.

Access to affordable child care is another area where government can have a big impact on closing the gender gap. There is a distinct and proven link between the cost of childcare and women in the workforce.

What can companies do?

The first thing companies can and should do is a Gender Wage Gap Analysis. Many companies are hesitant to do this for a lot of reasons. First of all, it could be very costly., a US tech giant, spent $3 million in 2015 to adjust the salaries of women and minorities to help close their gap. The company is currently undergoing a second gender gap analysis after acquiring 14 new companies; the work is on-going.

Another industry giant, Corning Inc. – you know them from CorningWare ceramic dishes although they have divested that business and are more heavily involved in industrial glass and ceramics – have been working on this since 1985. Internal research showed women were leaving at twice the rate of men. The company was wasting $3.5 million EACH YEAR to train and replace these women.

According to exit interviews, women were leaving because they saw no opportunity to advance – at the time, nearly all management was men. Corning Inc. listened to this and put in place metrics to ensure women were given access to promotions. They also started subsidizing child care for all employees. For years, attrition of both women and men in the company has been equal. They also run their gender wage gap analysis four times per year and have achieved 100% parity.

What can you do?

As an individual, you can only do so much to fix such an institutional problem. But, if you run a business – even a small one – think about running your own numbers. Do you pay women and men equally? Do you only ever hire women for administrative roles or men for labour-intensive roles? Do you base salary offers on what they were making at previous jobs?

It’s easy to assume that your small – or big! – business doesn’t have a problem. No one is thinking, “yes! A woman, I’ll pay her less!” and so many assume they couldn’t have a problem in their business. But these issues are deeply cultural and they can sneak in without us being aware. It’s best not to make assumptions; run the numbers and ask the questions.

For those who aren’t running a business, ask your employer if they’ve looked at the company numbers. It can be a hard conversation to have and for many people, it may feel like too much of a risk. But, if you have a good relationship with your employer, ask the question!

Another thing individuals can do is talk more openly about money. I’m not suggesting you tweet your salary. Rather, if you know a trusted friend is applying for a job and you’ve worked in a similar role, be honest about your salary. This is especially helpful for men to share with their women friends and colleagues.

A complex challenge needs multifaceted solutions. I’ve only outlined a few of many. Let’s keep the conversation going and see if we can move that 170-year timeline a heck of a lot closer.

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