Jesse Bridges, Elizabeth Bille, and Pamela DeLoatch

The pay gap, or pay inequity, is a lagging indicator of issues that span across the entire employee experience. To truly solve pay inequity, organizations must go beyond examining and reforming their pay practices alone and instead take a holistic view and comprehensive approach. Specifically, they must address and resolve all practices across the employee lifecycle that create and contribute to pay inequity. 

This third blog in a four-part series will support the above thesis by examining how an organization’s talent management, advancement, and leadership development practices are related to and can be retooled to prevent pay inequities. 

Are you interested in diving deeper into pay equity?  Check out the other blogs in the series:

  1. Why the Pay Equity Issue, Isn’t Really About Pay
  2. Talent Acquisition and Pay Equity
  3. Conducting Pay Audits 

Ensuring your company has pay equity doesn’t just start with a salary offer. It begins long before, as a reflection of your talent acquisition and interview process. Likewise, pay equity doesn’t end with a salary offer. Hiring someone at an equitable rate doesn’t guarantee that person will maintain equity throughout their career. 

Pay equity issues after the hire

Once a person is hired, pay inequity issues can still occur, and they often are more subtle. Part of this is because companies often are not forthright about internal compensation. As a result, it can be challenging for an employee to know if their increase is on par with their peers’.  

But many pivotal moments in an employee’s lifecycle that lead to pay inequity have nothing to do with money and everything to do with opportunity. Wayne Gretsky famously said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” That statement assumes the player gets to take the shot. But if they can’t get the puck or ball, or job opportunity, that “shot” will surely be missed.

3 areas for lost opportunities for pay equity

Uneven mentoring/coaching/sponsoring.

One of the most successful ways employees can develop their careers is by having someone with more experience provide feedback and advice. Mentors, coaches, or sponsors can help employees navigate decisions and discussions and be top of mind for new opportunities. But not everyone gets the same chance to have a mentor, coach, or sponsor.

Mentoring relationships can develop organically, but that also can lead to inequity. It’s human nature: people gravitate to people who are like them. But because white men tend to hold positions of power, this affinity bias has a negative effect on women and people of color. According to LeanIn, women are 24% less likely than men to get advice from senior leaders. It doesn’t help that, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, 60% of male managers said they are uncomfortable being in workplace activities with women.

Feedback-giving bias.

When employees have an accurate understanding of their performance, they better understand how and where to improve. However, when women get performance feedback, they get vague feedback that is less tied to business outcomes. 

A Harvard Business Review study found a correlation between vague feedback and lower performance review ratings for women, but not for men. The study also found that women were more likely to get general feedback on their communication style (i.e., “Her speaking style and approach can be off-putting to some people at times,”) while men were more likely to get specific feedback and action items, (i.e., “you need to deepen your domain knowledge in the X space — once you have that understanding, you will be able to contribute to the design decisions that impact the customer.”)

With male employees more likely to get specific feedback that can be implemented and measured, they have more chances to build the skills needed to move up the career ladder.

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Selection for career growth opportunities.

Whether it is the distribution of stretch assignments or being chosen for leadership development programs, these programs can accelerate an employee’s career growth. In one survey, 71% of managers said stretch assignments were the biggest career enabler. 

However, women and people of color don’t get the same opportunities for assignments as white men. Research shows that women and people of color are less likely to get “glamour assignments,” and are more likely to do administrative tasks than white men. Harvard Business Review reported that white female engineers were 20% less likely to have equal access to assignments as white male engineers. And female engineers of color were 35% less likely to have a chance for a juicy assignment. Results were similar for lawyers.

Taking off the blinders: addressing opportunity 

Addressing equity issues doesn’t mean giving one group benefits instead of the other. The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg described it this way: “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” 

With the understanding that inequities can exist at all stages in a career, leaders must look at their policies and practices to actively develop equity. Ask incisive questions like:

  • What is the timeline for women to reach upper management, compared to men?
  • What is the attrition rate as women and other marginalized groups ascend in the organization? Are there specific points where they are leaving the company?
  • What employees are included in succession planning programs like a 9 box grid?
  • How are high potential employees determined? 
  • When an employee decides to leave or presents an offer from another organization, what’s the process for determining who you will advocate retaining and who you would see as a “non-regrettable” termination?
  • What family-friendly policies do you have– or need to include– to help employees take advantage of chances to grow their careers?

Pay equity is a deep-seated problem that can develop at any point in an organization. What’s more, the systems we have in place can unintentionally perpetuate the problem. Leaders must ensure that employees have an equal opportunity to take their shot at all phases of their careers. 

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