Five Ways to Attack the Pay Inequity Issue Head-On

Despite laws, regulations and cultural uproar, pay inequity still exists. But Facebook rants and heated dinner conversations aren’t enough to make genuine change. I recently had an interesting discussion on this topic with the CEO of, Kent Plunkett, about ways to attack the issue head-on. Here are five ways I recommend leaders, employers and employees work to fix this issue.

Know and Acknowledge the Facts

Pay equity facts (or inequity as it stands) aren’t haphazard stats that someone manipulated to make a point. Information is gathered by Federal agencies, including the Census Bureau, the Department of Education and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Current Population Survey (CPS) is the United States’ main source of labor force statistics, including the data on 50,000 households compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s a good source of information if you are in a conversation with someone in denial that pay equity is still a major issue.

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) recently released a report “The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap” (Spring 2016)” that states, “in 2014, women working full time in the United States typically were paid just 79 percent of what men were paid, a gap of 21 percent.” This is a significant amount of money that could completely transform the lives of women and their families.

Complete a Self-audit of Your Organization

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to self-reflect on this topic. If you are raging about the injustice of the pay gap, it’s probably a good idea to look at your own organization, especially if you are an employer.

When I asked Kent Plunkett about how best to go about an audit, he offered the following wisdom. “First, make sure you have your jobs leveled with standard criteria across the organization such as skills, effort, responsibility, education, years of relevant experience, etc. Also, make sure to have accurate job descriptions, which should outline the duties, responsibilities and qualifications for each role. Group positions for comparability and form levels.”

“Then, look at all the employees across the organization within each level. Review the variance in compensation between males versus females. You want to review and understand the reasons for each variance. Review qualifications such as education, experience, and individual performance, which can be valid differentiators in pay levels. If these qualifications are in line, then you can conclude that females are compensated equitably.”

If not, you have some work to do. But there’s also some help from our friend, the government. In fall 2017, there will be a new filing requirement for companies with more than 100 employees. Filling out that form is a valid way to complete a basic leveling and assessment. Here’s a look at the preliminary form.

When variances do exist, Plunkett shares a few ways to take corrective action: salary increases, total cash compensation (not just base salary) and larger bonus payments.

Speak to Executives in Impactful Ways

This can be tough. A lot of people want to make changes without making waves.

Plunkett recommends the individual should ask the executive, “How is my pay determined?” He states that the answer should reveal the extent to which the company has an articulated compensation policy that would indicate a philosophy of fair pay.

If you seek to find compensation policy guidelines within your organization, it should include job leveling and comparability criteria, as well as job descriptions, including roles and responsibilities of the individual’s position. It is also key to know that fair pay is based on total compensation, not just base salary, and there are many ways to compose a salary package.

It’s important to know what to ask and use tact as you uncover the practices of your own organization.

Support Organizations That Are Making Strides

When dealing with an issue that surrounds social inequity, there are nonprofit organizations and groups dedicated to making governmental, corporate and societal changes. And they don’t run on fumes. If this is an issue close to your heart, find an organization that is making a difference and support them. If financial support isn’t an option, help them spread the word, using your voice is a great way to play a role. Even sharing their social media posts shows support and is educational to your network. Whether philanthropic giving, volunteerism or social sharing is your focus, don’t underestimate their importance.

I am especially passionate about organizations that educate women on how to assess their worth and polish negotiation skills. Most of the onus is on employers to ensure a fair landscape, but job candidates should be armed with information on what they should earn.

In fact, there are classes dedicated to teaching women how to push back and negotiate effectively. Kudos to those hosting and attending seminars like these.
Walk the Talk

I believe in this as a basic life principle. If you’re out there preaching, complaining, teaching, sharing or even talking about something, have the integrity to live out what you say. Use tools, technology and resources to keep your finger on the pulse of your own organizational practices. Whether you are a CEO or Human Resources executive, you are already employing tech – add this into the dashboard of what to monitor.

There are best practices involved with walking the talk in the realm of pay equity, and Kent shared a few that we can keep handy.

  • Have accurate descriptions for every job. They should include standard criteria against which jobs are leveled.
  • Train managers to be able to articulate your firm’s compensation philosophy, policies on equal pay, and to discuss how an individual’s compensation is determined. In addition, they should be able to make periodic, accurate and honest assessments about an individual’s performance.
  • Assess equal pay annually. Review all the employees across the organization within each level. Look at the variance in compensation between males and females. Evaluate the reasons for the pay discrepancies, if any, and make adjustments if necessary to close any gaps.

Excuses for this sort of inequity have no merit. Let’s play (and pay) fair and square.

A version of this was first posted on

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