Equal pay challenge from a manager’s perspective

Of course I am all for equal pay. I am all for equal opportunity. And in my role as a manager I often get infuriated about the systemic ways and subtle choices that perpetuate inequality. Let me count the ways.

1. Hiring a new person. As a manager I usually have some flexibility in the salary. I want to hire the best person for the job and I also have a fiduciary responsibility to get a good deal for the company and not lose a good candidate over salary. As a result, I must expect negotiation and thus will open with an offer at the low end of a fair salary range so I have some room to move (I never worked for a company that had organized labor). The trouble starts here. In my experience (and of course I am generalizing here) white males feel more entitled and push just a bit harder. It is not going to create a huge difference, but enough of a difference. This sets the baseline already unevenly.

2. Entitlement — the sequel. I keep generalizing to make the point. A white male doing a 100% job thinks he’s doing a 125% job. A female employee who’s working at a 100% level thinks she’s doing a 75% job. Guess who is asking for the next raise sooner. Guess who’s going to negotiate harder. The gap increases.

3. “I want to fly jets, sir” attitude versus the “I want to serve my country” attitude. Guess who’s asking for the promotion first? Regardless of qualifications — the gap increases.

4. “Look what a great job I am doing” meets “they must see I am a team player and going above and beyond”. No, they don’t. Most of the time the team players get the praise but the self-promoters get all the glory and monetary reward that comes with it.

As a manager I am in a bind. I support equality. I have a fiscal responsibility to my company to keep cost low. I want the team focused and content, so unless things flare up I am not messing with success — there are enough issues to resolve even without actively intervening. If issues arise, often it’s easiest to just give some grease to the squeaky wheel rather than holistically address the whole team. Then, suddenly I am looking at a salary summary of my entire organization and start seeing quite disturbing trends. Some cohorts of employees are significantly longer in their current roles than others. Some groups are clearly paid lower than other groups despite the same job responsibilities and qualifications. This was not intended but it became reality that needs to be dealt with. So, if you want to be a good manager, you need to be vigilant and actively manage the equality questions constantly. Otherwise it sneaks up on you.