Why I’m Not Falling For the Banana in the Tailpipe When it Comes to the Gender Pay Gap

We’re confusing tough to address with impossible to fix.

(This post was inspired by Wil Reynolds’ I was afraid to pull men vs women salary data @ my company post.)

I once asked a male college professor why states don’t strictly enforce the death penalty for sexual assault crimes against women and children. To my mind the crime fit the punishment.

His answer:

“Because most laws are created by men, and men commit most sexual assaults.”

My thoughts, then as now, were “Let’s not conflate excuses with sound reasoning.”

Lately, I’ve been thinking along the same lines with regard to the gender pay gap:

It’s NOT that difficult to fix; it’s simply easy for men to say how difficult it is, which buys them time to continually make the case for the impossibility of finding a solution.

Don’t fall for the ‘difficult’ B.S.

A couple years after my wife had our first child and returned to work, she remarked of how she’d lost ground in her career and how her salary trailed her contemporaries.

“It’s true, Ronell,” she said. “Women lose a lot of ground when they go out on maternity leave. It’s hard to make that up, too.”

Maybe I would have bought those statements, but the next line filled me with bilious, disbelieving rage.

“My salary is now $25,ooo less than [my peers], and there’s nothing I can do about that. I effectively lost a year of work.”

Since displays of derisive contempt don’t go over well with my Type A wife, I chose Socratic tact:

* You lost a year of time at work, but did you lose your skills?
* Are you working at the same level as people who you know now make more than you?
* As far as you know, are you and the peers you’re compared to, doing similar jobs and share the same or similar ratings based on your last review?
* You did lose a year of face time with your internal sponsors, but did you, in their eyes, lose your ability to perform at a high level?
* As you sit here today, what can you say you physically or mentally lost from not being the office for a year?

By the time she was done answering the questions, she’d seen the point that was in front of her all along.

“If I’m doing work at the same level or above my peers, there is no reason I shouldn’t expect the same or similar pay.”

After coming up with a plan, she compiled the empirical data needed to make her case, and then presented it to her boss. Soon thereafter she had a raise that got her back to where she should have been.

Don’t blame, invite critique

One reason my wife was successful was she was able to build a case based on two things:

  • The level of work she was doing
  • The pay for that level of work across the organization

Getting empirical data for both wasn’t very difficult, especially when companies nowadays track and compare everything.

But recently, with all of the news regarding the gender pay disparity, we had a mild disagreement with regard to how difficult the issue is to fix.

She made the case along the lines of how often unfeasible it is for individuals to discern information with regard to reviews and ratings, in addition to the quality of work, pay of her peers, departmental idiosyncrasies, unknown bias, etc.

I lacked tact this time:

“That’s such bullsh&t! Women are allowing men to pull the wool over their eyes by falling for ‘It’s difficult.’”

There are at least three fixes; none of the three rises to the level of solving the Dirac Equation.

I’d suggest starting with…

  1. Focus on the level of work you’re doing, not how much you are paid, were previously paid (even recently) or think you should be paid. If you know men, or other women for that matter, are getting paid more for the same job, don’t fall for the “Well, they are more experienced” or “You were only paid X at your last job B.S.” Use any data you can get your hands on to build a case for same work/level of work, same pay. Invite them to explain to you why you shouldn’t be paid the same as someone doing the same job and performing at the same level. (Remember, too, that just because your salary is brought up to the same level doesn’t mean you still won’t be missing out on sundry other financial perks peers might have been able to negotiate, and that you might never know about (e.g., one-time bonuses).
  2. Don’t trust that your boss is the best person to gauge your performance. Bias often leads to people (men and women) getting reviewed/rated lower than their peers, which means making an accurate apples-to-apples comparison of what you should be paid can be difficult. If you sense bias is at work, ask your supervisor to make the case for why you are being reviewed/rated as you are. If you’re unsatisfied with the answer with the answer, ask for a third-party review and seek advice from internal and external advocates.
  3. Be willing to vote with your feet. “Women are too loyal,” said a close friend of mine. “We’ll stay in a bad job, because it’s what we know, when there are better opportunities all around us.” Sometimes the best opportunity is a new one. I know those words will invite criticism, but consider this: If you feel you’re being underpaid, and have empirical proof to show as much, don’t you think it’s at least worth investigating better options, particularly if you’re certain your current situation won’t be successfully remedied?

We have self-driving cars, self-landing rockets and have serious discussions about colonizing Mars. But we cannot solve the gender pay gap?

Get real!

At the very least, let’s stop lying to ourselves that the issue is so tough to fix. It’s largely tough because we’re refusing to deal with it sufficiently.