Workers who can't afford their own lawyer should know their comparable salaries — and employers who think pay inequalities don't exist among their own ranks might be surprised by an audit.
Politeness does not beget parity. Mindful employers and educated workers do. "For generations, women have been socialized not to talk about money," says Tina Tchen, the newly minted president and CEO of Time's Up, who advises women who think they aren't being paid fairly to arm themselves with comparable salary data. "Numbers give you more confidence in evaluating your own worth and advocating for it."
That's not to say the onus should fall on anyone but employers. Experts advise that even those executives who think they're doing well in the fight for equal pay should commit the time and resources to salary audits. "Employers serious about eliminating gender-based pay disparities can work with experts or counsel to do the kind of analyses that will allow them to see whether they have a problem and to identify the source of that problem," says employment attorney Kalpana Kotagal.
The culprit, adds Kotagal, is often a bit of legalese known as disparate impact — "a neutral policy that gives rise to an unequal outcome." Relying on experience to set starting wage rates, for example, tends to favor men over women because of historical inequities regarding opportunity and gender. And "if bonuses and raises are based on that starting salary, over the years the disparity becomes bigger and bigger," says Ann Fromholz, another employment lawyer who recommends companies stop basing present pay on past compensation. (Some good news: Since 2018, it has been illegal in California to ask job applicants about their pay history.)
A culture shift is ultimately needed to sustain change across industries. And while many companies are still reluctant to open themselves up to added scrutiny and cost, Tchen says that younger generations of potential employees and consumers have a greater tendency to make decisions based on a company's values and ethics. "Companies that create an equitable and diverse work environment," she says, "have less turnover, and that leads to larger financial returns in the long run."
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