Business

Not Satisfied to Wait 100 Years: Corporate America Working on the Gender Pay Gap

women next to Starbucks logo

Amy Nelson is a contributor for Women@Forbes and shared the following article on April 2, 2019. 

This April 2 is Equal Pay Day, a day that “symbolizes how far into the year all women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year,” a day first marked in 1996 by the National Committee on Pay Equity. It’s a day flanked by numerous other Equal Pay Days that mark pay gaps between women of color and white men. August 22, represents $0.61 earned by Black women against the white man’s $1.00, and November 20 marks the $0.53 Latina women average against the white man’s $1.00 – and those are only two statistics in a year of dates marking the pay gaps. Studies estimate that it will take 100 years before the gender pay gap is corrected – it’s a bitter pill to swallow.

We live in a time of hard-to-imagine scientific progress, a time in which we welcome AI into our homes and we are being wooed with 3D-printed 8-bit sushi, and yet men and women will continue to be valued differently for 100 years, until the year 2119. This makes no sense.

So those of us fighting for women in work push along, joining in a chorus of those who agree that different pay for equal work is not only unsustainable, but bad for business. It is worth noting that many voices in this choir belong to men, as they should.  Equal pay is not a woman’s issue, but rather one that impacts all of us.  Major companies are going public with their efforts and data around equal pay, helping push toward change.

Starbucks today announced it is bringing its landmark Pay Equity Principles, a guide for employees and employers, and the culmination of 10 years of work on gender and racial pay, to other businesses in an effort to accelerate the rate of change. “Today we joined together with more than 20 companies from the Employers for Pay Equity to sign a letter that commits each organization to adopt Pay Equity Principles and share progress of their journey,” said Starbucks COO and Group President, Rosalind (Roz) Brewer. “While this group represents different industries facing different challenges to achieving pay equity, we all agree that by working together we can accelerate the elimination of the national pay gap,” Brewer said.

With companies like Zillow Group, Starbucks, and others leading with transparent, disciplined effort, and the streamlining of a complicated issue, perhaps we can close the gender pay gap sooner than predicted. This isn’t just a matter of justice, but it is good for business.

Starbucks’ path to true gender and racial equity was long, involved, and full of learning for the company. Starbucks COO and Group President Roz Brewer explained, “We began our company-wide compensation study at Starbucks in 2008. It took more than 10 years of analysis, innovation and vigilance that led us to achieve 100 percent pay equity for men and women and people of all races performing similar work in the U.S. While the ambition sounds simple, it was an imperfect and hard process, even for a company as mission-driven as Starbucks. Our Partner Resources team (what other companies typically called Human Resources) had to help develop tools and procedures for the entire company to stem the influence of unconscious bias in decision making from hiring to promotions.” And the company didn’t go it alone, leaning on the expertise of organizations dedicated to gender equity, including Billie Jean King and her Leadership Initiative, and national women’s organizations the National Partnership for Women & Families and the American Association of University Women.

Another company investing in pay equity is Zillow Group, a portfolio company of real estate and rental marketplace brands. The company has conducted pay equity audits for the last three years and each has reported that women at Zillow Group make $1.01 for every $1.00 a man makes in the same role. This is an encouraging statistic, a bright point at a time when the numbers remain bleak. I spoke with Rebekah Bastian, Zillow Group’s Vice President of Community and Culture, about Equal Pay Day and the company’s work toward closing the gender pay gap and its annual salary audits. “We’ve had really good news to share with respect to pay equity in the same role, but we also have numbers that we’re not quite as proud of, around representation,” Bastian said. “We have a page that shows our representation numbers. We wanted to be transparent and hold ourselves accountable. We believe that all companies should do so.” There’s a difference between transparency and reporting high points for PR value.

Citigroup stepped into transparency in January with its release of its internal pay equity review, which showed that globally its median compensation for female employees is 29 percent less than for males. The media reported this revelation via blunt headlines, some harsher than others, including an expletive-punctuated one from Vanity Fair. But overall the clarity around their broadened audit and reveal of their data was accepted to people focused on women in work, including reports in The Washington Post and Fortune Broadsheet  Without accountability, self-reported data, and transparency, corporate America can’t make true corrections. “[People] know when there are inequities, or when there are numbers that aren’t great, whether you tell them or not,” Bastian said. “I admire seeing other companies doing that as well, even if it’s not something they want to brag about. That transparency and accountability is important, and it’s valued. I think people are more forgiving about being transparent about not-perfect numbers than they of trying to keep it all a secret.”

With companies like Zillow Group, Starbucks, and others leading with transparent, disciplined effort, and the streamlining of a complicated issue, perhaps we can close the gender pay gap sooner than predicted. This isn’t just a matter of justice, but it is good for business. As Starbucks’ Brewer puts it, “It is a core tenet of Starbucks leadership team that a for-profit company can serve shareholders, support partners (employees), and make a positive impact in the communities it serves.” We need more leaders to join in this effort. We need to hear from the CEOs of America’s most highly-valued startups – like, Uber, WeWork and those at the helm of our country’s biggest employers and companies, like Walmart, Google, Amazon, and Kroger. As Rebekah Bastian of Zillow Group said, “The solutions need to come from everybody, not just the people impacted by inequities.”

Just seeing 2119 as the year the gender pay gap will close should be enough of a wake-up call.  And hopefully, with a rallying cry of leading corporations driving change, we’ll see pay equity in a fraction of the time.

[IMAGE] Rosalind (Roz) Brewer, COO and Group President of Starbucks. Image courtesy of Starbucks.

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