The arrival of Equal Pay Day every year on April 10 reminds us how far women have come to achieve pay and gender parity in the workplace. But also how far women need to go. The date on the calendar represents how many more months women need to work in order to earn the same wages as men doing the same work in a calendar year ending December 31.

The absence of gender parity in leadership in American businesses is about more than a pay gap. It is about an opportunity blockade.

In my own career as a brand management executive, I recall a time when I felt blocked. My boss, a division CEO, provided connections and visibility to my male peers but not to me. Some of his actions were blatant including social gatherings he hosted for all of his male direct reports and their wives on most weekends. Other actions were more subtle like his 5:30 p.m. call with a forgotten invitation to that evening’s Board of Directors’ dinner that my peers had known about and planned to attend for weeks.

This is not blatant sexual harassment, but it is gender bias.

The #MeToo movement of stories of harassment and blocked advancement have erupted from seemingly every business niche. On the path to what is next and determining meaningful actions, job #1 is to recognize that the #MeToo tsunami is one symptom of a non-diverse workplace and an uneven playing field for women.

The reality is women working in a majority-male workplace cite greater discrimination than those with a balanced or female-skewing workforce, according the PEW Research Center.

A recent survey from LeanIn and Survey Monkey indicates almost half of male managers are uncomfortable participating in common work activities with women in the workplace. Exclusion from these seemingly typical activities, such as working alone in an office or providing or receiving mentorship that men restrict, will limit careers for many women and will perpetuate a male dominant workforce.

The Status Quo Needs To Change

What isn’t working in this country to close the gender pay gap is the status quo. Not acknowledging the need to close the gap and to offer fair compensation with an attitude of discomfort and avoidance only compounds the disparities.

Women experience a wage gap in nearly every occupation, according to an April 2018 report, even in occupations where women are overrepresented.  The wage gap, estimated 80 cents for every dollar,  is more severe for women of color with black women making 63 cents and Latina women making 54 cents for every dollar of their white non-Hispanic male counterparts.

For women of color, catching up –even to their white female peers– is even more difficult over the course of their careers, if they do not begin at the same starting line.

What is working?

Yet, those business and political leaders who recognize the need for a major cultural, systemic and mindset change are creating the platform for change in their organizations. And they make a public commitment of action.

Leading the way in fair pay practices, Starbucks announced in late March that they have reached 100 percent equal pay across gender and racial groups for the same work and performance.  This took years of work, but started with an express commitment to drive change.

Paradigm For Parity is one movement that is enlisting business leaders to make a commitment to gender equality seeking parity by 2030.  Forward-looking companies are signing on to this important effort, making a public statement of the action they will take.

Similarly, the Catalyst CEO Champions for Change initiative includes 50 leaders from top companies committed to advancing women into management, the C-Suite and the board, with Marc Bitzer, CEO of Whirlpool Corporation, as the latest to commit to change.

Earlier this month the New Jersey legislature followed up Governor Phil Murphy’s January pledge to combat gender wage gap with the passing of a bill that strengthens the pay equity law including greater protections for victims of discrimination.

According to the BBC, “California, Delaware, Oregon and Puerto Rico have passed bills to prohibit employers from using a job applicant’s salary history and benefits during the hiring process. Dozens of other states have introduced similar legislation, including Vermont.”

These policy makers and corporate change makers will lead the way helping others towards enlightenment and upend organizational practices in order to provide women a fair shot.

The effect of not having a fair shot affects a lifetime of earnings for all women.

A new report surveying more than 2 million workers from Payscale finds, “Over the course of their career, men move into higher level roles at significantly higher rates than women. By mid-career (age range 30-44), men are 70 percent more likely to be in VP or C-suite roles than women. By late career (age 45+), men are more 142 percent more likely to be in these higher paying roles.”

According to Payscale, “Workers in higher-level roles almost always earn a higher salary, so the lack of women in these roles means the average woman is almost certainly destined to make less than the average man.”   So year after year, lower salary affects all quality of life choices from housing to education to health and more.

Leaders tone deaf to the new normal or those who simply offer lip service to gender diversity will be less effective in managing teams, recruiting and engaging the best talent, as well as advancing their own careers.

Those employees resistant to a more inclusive world paying all employees regardless of gender, race, age, orientation or ability the same may suddenly find themselves on their own uneven playing field.

It is time to remove the blockades.

By Ellen Taaffe

Ellen Taaffe is Corporate Board Director, a Clinical Assistant Professor of Leadership and Director of Women’s Leadership Programming at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.  She is a Public Voices Fellow with the OpEd Project.  


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