LGBTQ & Gender Opinion

Int’l Women’s Day 2018: Here’s how we can #PressforProgress and accelerate gender pay equality

2017 was momentous on the global stage in terms of raising awareness for women’s issues, with the #MeToo campaign and surrounding conversations, and the post-Trump women’s marches in the U.S. which coalesced public solidarity. So far, 2018 has seen some interesting activity.

Iceland enacted a requirement for companies to obtain equal pay certification. The BBC’s Carrie Grace caused a stir by resigning over pay inequality. Time’s Up launched a legal defence fund to help women impacted by sexual harassment, and female high school activists are making waves. International Women’s Day is an excellent time to hail courageous activists, policymakers, and victims who stepped up, and to celebrate their accomplishments.

women's activism in 2017

This Thursday – on March 8 – the collective voice of International Women’s Day asks us to #PressforProgress to cement a call to action to accelerate gender parity in addition to celebrating women’s achievements.

Violence (sexual harassment, rape, female infanticide, sex trafficking, slavery, genital mutilation) and disparity (pay inequality, lack of representation, unequal access to education and reproductive freedom) are some of the myriad horrific realities of female experiences around the planet. Progress has touched a few of these buckets – but inconsistently and nowhere close to what’s needed, so that leaves much to press for. Beyond the celebrations, International Women’s Day is an excellent marker to raise awareness of what should change and outline how we will change it.

I want to call to action one specific item this year. Not because it’s more important than the others, but because I believe it’s something a lot of us are in a position to change, even if slowly or imperfectly…

Gender pay inequality

Unequal treatment in the sphere of the workplace begins even before you accept a job. It starts with being considered for one. From there, we move onto the potential for discrimination and bias during interviews, and then the same during negotiation. Once at work, these matters apply to promotions and access to leadership opportunities, and a lack of gender-diversity friendly policies adds to the skew. Culture, re-designing the mechanics of the process, and accountability and transparency are key to starting the broader fix as I’ve explored before, but a call to action to start correcting gender pay inequality requires a more specific ask of each of us. So here it is.

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File photo: Pexels.

For everyone:

  1. Know that inequality and discrimination exist. Take this from someone who has hired scores of people for a diverse range of organizations globally. As a professional who has led recruiting teams, worked around existing systems, and pushed against ingrained organizational cultures to make sure talent was hired fairly, let me tell you that this happens even in environments with good intentions, even at the hands of nice people, and certainly in places where there are no legislative or cultural hammers or influences to promote a critical audit and create better behaviours. There are plenty of examples and data, but here’s a recent interesting study: Human Resources Magazine highlights a German experiment on the pay gap, in which three trans people applied to the same jobs – once as a man, and once as a woman. When presenting as a man, they were offered bonuses that didn’t even come up in conversations when presenting as a woman.
  2. Ask your organizations and your client companies what their stance is on gender parity in the workplace. If you get a shrug of disinterest or a desultory answer, #PressforProgress. Every single person who asks and clearly exhibits an interest in prioritizing these matters, needs to speak up and make their intent and voice known.

For job applicants or those in-process:

  1. When you start considering a job opportunity, as an active applicant, or after a recruiter calls you and engages your interest, understand that there is a team of people working on the other side, often experienced with hiring. It’s in your best interest to understand how things work with the people and company you’re dealing with, so try to learn as much as you can with regards to decision makers and culture. Recruiters are hired by organizations and paid by them, whether they are in-house or at agencies. They might have information you don’t. They might be instructed to hire within a certain budget, or they might be asked to hire at the lowest possible price. They might be playing to indirect suggestions of a preference for a particular gender for a particular role, and they certainly might not have the power to question obvious biases that organizations and teams may exhibit. The same set of factors applies to HR professionals. I’ve known great ones, ineffective ones, nice ones who didn’t have any authority or ability to push back, and intentionally exploitative ones as well, so know whom you’re dealing with.
  2. Research your market worth by keeping a constant ear to the ground for information on similar roles in other organizations, networking, and keeping open lines between yourself and people a few rungs above you in your chosen profession. Know where you might fall within the brackets and what you should get, and set your expectations from there. Don’t go blindly into interviews.
  3. Negotiate. There are very few instances in which you shouldn’t, where you are genuinely being given the best possible offer. Most companies offer candidates a sum that is below what they can likely afford to or want to pay. Not everyone is a born negotiator; most people learn how to, so learn. Sketch out your reasons, have a reasonable number in mind based on (2), and decide what the cost/benefit is of agreeing to a lower figure as not all offers are the same. Don’t yield ground where you don’t need to. For instance, you being able to work from home a day a week doesn’t mean you should get a lower salary, unless you are truly going to be working or producing less. In places where it is common practice for recruiters to ask candidates what they earned previously or their current salaries like in Hong Kong, don’t be intimidated into sharing a clear figure. Find out why the recruiter is asking. In most circumstances, they are looking to build your offer around what you’re sharing, so handle this with care, and don’t be afraid to push it back to them and ask what their range and budget is. If both parties really just want to make sure they are in the same ballpark in terms of expectations, go ahead and share a range that you’ve discovered the market pays for roles like the one you’re aiming for, and ask for them to share a range as well (ideally, before you do).
  4. Do understand the potential social cost to negotiating if you’re a woman, and tailor your approach if you sense you’re wading into that pernicious conversation.
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Photo: UN Women.

For hiring managers and recruiters:

  1. Do you know the state of salaries and compensation philosophy within your teams, company at large, or at your client organizations? If you don’t, start finding at least the relevant data points. If that’s not clear or if it’s shrouded in secrecy, #PressforProgress, call for transparency, and make it a priority. You should know what people are earning at your organization in roles similar to the one you’re looking to fill. Do wider research as well, and see what the market is paying for the type of role you’re hiring for, and then situate that within your hiring circumstances and the quality of talent you want. Don’t hesitate to have deeper conversations with HR and your own boss if you have one, to plot out what the value of the job really is to your team.
  2. Be aware that we all have biases, so try to recognize yours and your team’s. Are you inclined to feel warm and fuzzy towards people you share hobbies with? Are you inclined to think a woman is going to rush home for childcare or a woman of a certain age will go on maternity leave as soon as you hire her? Do you perceive men who push back as confident and women who do as arrogant? Do you perceive soft-spoken people as non-leaders? Think through biases intentionally, because you should want to hire the best person you can truly afford fairly and sustainably.
  3. Don’t try to lowball candidates for the sake of it, or try to take advantage of people who are not smooth negotiators or who haven’t pushed back. Being a smooth negotiator isn’t a prerequisite for many jobs, and that’s not the skill that person is being hired for.

This doesn’t directly apply to jobs that exist in transparent salary bands, nor is it intended to ignore the few organizations who do already try to address gender disparity in the workplace and intentionally work to dismantle pay inequalities. It isn’t simply a women’s issue either, but one that concerns all of us, male, female, non-binary, and one that impacts talent retention and attraction, employee well-being, and more generally, business. Every person, whether it’s a hiring manager, a recruiter, a candidate, or an employee, is part of the culture that has generally kept unequal pay in play over years, so we all have to nip at the problem from various angles and do our bit. Let’s take the #PressforProgress call to action to heart, and work to accelerate gender parity this International Women’s Day and beyond.


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Int'l Women’s Day 2018: Here's how we can #PressforProgress and accelerate gender pay equality