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Elizabeth Walgram of Segal: 5 Things We Need To Do To Close The Gender Wage Gap

We need to make sure that we continue talking about the pay gap as a society, that legislative action doesn’t slow down, and that internal equity is top of mind at all times. This is especially crucial in economically challenging times like a pandemic.

As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the gender wage gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Walgram.

Elizabeth is a Senior Consultant at Segal, the employee benefits consulting firm, where she focuses on compensation and organizational development. She identifies, investigates and tracks pay inequities based on gender and race, and then works to fix the issues. Elizabeth partners with clients on a variety of projects, including total rewards strategy, competitive analysis of compensation, incentive design, career frameworks, salary structure design, and change management. She works with higher education institutions, not-for-profits, from privately held to publicly traded organizations. Elizabeth is a founding member of Segal’s Pay Equity Taskforce.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?

I have always had an insatiable curiosity and love to learn, so a consulting career seemed like a natural fit. At the same time I had an interest in the “human side” of business, not just operations. I wanted to understand what motivates people, what keeps them engaged? How do you best reward them? These questions led me to explore human capital topics. I started working as a compensation consultant right after college and stayed in the field, because it continues to evolve and change — it’s never boring!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

At the last WorldatWork’s Pay Equity Symposium I had the opportunity to hear Megan Rapinoe speak. She talked about the women’s soccer team’s fight for equal pay. It was a fascinating presentation for two reasons. First, when people think of the pay gap, they immediate think about the “business” world. But this issue touches so many areas. Sports and entertainment don’t come to mind at first. But secondly, as a pay equity consultant, I deal a lot with numbers. Pay equity analyses are supposed to quantify and rationalize the pay gap, “explain it away”. And here we had the American women’s soccer team, beating the men’s team in so many quantifiable measures, and yet that wasn’t enough. This tells you that numbers aren’t everything. The pay gap is a complex challenge that requires multifaceted solutions, but these solutions need to begin with an acknowledgement of the problem and the willingness to fix it.

Can you share a story about the funniest or most interesting mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I grew up in Europe, in a culture with very traditional, standard names. When I moved to the U.S., I was surprised by the freedom surrounding names — you can name your daughter or son practically anything you want. And some names can be male or female! For example, when I first started working as an Associate Consultant, I had a colleague with whom at first I dealt with only via email. For weeks I thought the person was a female, until someone finally told me otherwise! How embarrassing for a junior employee to keep calling a Senior Vice President by the incorrect pronoun. This innocent mistake got me thinking a lot about bias. Are people treated differently because of what gender or race their name implies? Is a person considered less competent? There has actually been a lot of research on this topic and unfortunately much of it points to unconscious bias. We all need to be careful not to let it silently slip into our decision making.

Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. Even in 2019, women still earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. Can you explain three of the main factors that are causing the wage gap?

This is a frequently quoted statistic, because it sounds very simple and powerful. It catches everyone’s imagination. But unfortunately, nothing about the wage gap is simple. There are a lot of complexities and these are not mentioned as often. For example, in my opinion the biggest challenge is that we have a representation gap. First, employers need to realize that even if they are legally compliant when they pay similarly for similar jobs, they still need to attract both genders to apply for each job posting. And even if you have a diverse candidate pool, you still need to deal with subconscious bias during the application process. Second, employers may need to reconsider some of their interviewing processes and hiring practices (e.g. resumes without names, calibrating starting offers, training managers). And lastly, employers need to think about pay equity during the entire employee cycle. For example, women are still more likely than men to take time off for medical leave and then often face a penalty that men don’t. Smart employers may want to think about enhancing and encouraging use of their paternity benefits. And they need to consider how these types of things (among many others) factor into promotions.

Can you share with our readers what your work is doing to help close the gender wage gap?

I help clients determine if they have any pay inequities by gender and/or race, and then I develop a plan on how to address these inequities. I conduct a deep-dive analysis to identify trends and issues, as well as highlight outliers for further inspection (why are there outliers, which ones are okay, which ones require adjustments). These quantifiable results allow clients to see issues that are not easily spotted. What really gets me excited is that going “beyond the numbers.” I help our clients look at pay equity in a holistic manner. What things contribute to inequities? What aspects of their pay programs or policies are contributing to inequities?

Sometimes, it’s very minor things. For example, I once had a client that had a policy to close an application when they reached a certain number of applicants. Over time, the organization realized that they didn’t have many minority employees, even though they were headquartered in a very diverse community. With closer inspection they realized that by closing the application early, they primarily got candidates referred by current employees, and it was a never ending cycle of similar employees hiring people just like them. That was not the intent of the organization — they craved diversity! A simple change to the policy to require a diverse pool before closing the application fixed the problem. Yes, the hiring process took longer, but the results were beneficial. Through addressing challenges like this one, I help organizations think proactively and creatively about internal pay equity.

Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the gender wage gap. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. We all need to think more creatively and holistically about the gender wage gap. We need to look beyond just the numbers — peel the onion to uncover areas that are not obvious. And it’s time, since we’ve been battling this for too long
  2. It’s time to ask ourselves — what are the fundamental barriers that women face? One of them are gender stereotypes. As a society we often still think that some jobs are more suited for one gender or another. Can’t a woman be a CEO or President of the United States, just as much as a man can be a nurse? When my 2-year old daughter grows up and choose her career, I hope she is comfortable enough to consider any job that fascinates her.
  3. Stereotypes go deeper than just the career choices of men and women. It’s the language used around gender. For example, men are often described as assertive, but the same characteristic in women is viewed as aggressive or cold. These are often subconscious biases, and the only way to combat them is to talk about them and make employees and employers aware of them.
  4. Kick up workplace training about negotiation styles. Bias training in the workplace is helpful, but training about negotiation styles is currently rare. Women are often considered weak negotiators. But that is not necessarily the case. In fact women often negotiate as much and as effectively as men, but their success often depends on who sits on the other side of the table. As a society, we should make sure that the other side of the table is diverse.
  5. We need to make sure that we continue talking about the pay gap as a society, that legislative action doesn’t slow down, and that internal equity is top of mind at all times. This is especially crucial in economically challenging times like a pandemic.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I would want to inspire a movement that encourages people to think and act in a more unified way. We have so much in common and we could use some more focus on what unites us, not what separates us. Recent events with the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement have shown that we still have a lot of discord in society. Increasing tolerance and respect will help lead us into the future and I hope there is increased tolerance by the time my daughter reaches my age.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Listen more often than you speak.” Over the years I’ve discovered that listening is much tougher than talking. People are usually afraid of silence, of those awkward quiet moments. So, they tend to spend more time thinking what they will say next rather than listening to what the other person is saying. Or they talk a lot to fill the silence. In both of these cases you don’t learn very much. Being a good listener is a skill that is important both in the business world and your personal life.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

I have been impressed by the accomplishments of Meg Whitman. Over the last several decades she’s been breaking the glass ceiling at some of the largest American companies. But, she goes beyond business as well as a political activist and philanthropist. I have lots of questions to ask her. We may need a seven-course lunch!



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