What can the USWNT teach us about gender pay equity?
Even if you’re not much of a fan, you’ve probably heard a lot about soccer lately. The U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) has dominated sports news over the past several weeks, culminating with their fourth World Cup win last Sunday. As much press as the team has earned with their winning ways, the players have generated almost as many headlines with their activism. Among the major issues they’ve brought into the spotlight is one that should resonate with the human resources community: gender pay equity.
A global conversation
While the conversation about equal pay for all genders has been going on for decades, the World Cup has amplified it on a global scale. In March, 28 players from the USWNT filed a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer. Not only are they paid significantly less, the players claim, but their training facilities, travel arrangements, medical treatment, and other occupational factors are all inadequate compared to what their male counterparts enjoy. With the team heading to its latest victory parade and the lawsuit heading into mediation, it’s evident that this issue won’t be fading away any time soon.
The concerns of a world-class sports team might seem pretty far removed from the day-to-day operations of the average employer, but the debate over gender pay equity touches nearly every place of employment. Studies by the National Women’s Law Center have shown that some degree of gender wage gap can be found in 97% of American occupations. Adding another layer of inequity to the conversation, women of color face an even larger gap than white women working in similar roles.
For further evidence, look at the increasing visibility of Equal Pay Day, an annual commemoration of the gap between American men’s and women’s salaries. As our blog noted this Spring, an average male worker starting a job on April 2 would earn just as much in 2019 as a woman who started work on January 1. That’s actually a narrower gap than in previous years, but it’s still a startling figure.
What can your company do?
Equal pay remains a complex issue with a wide array of contributing factors, and employers are divided on how — or even whether — to address it. It’s true that some elements of pay inequity are beyond the control of individual employers. For instance, decades of institutional inequality mean that women in general have less seniority and occupy fewer high-level positions, leading to a lower median pay rate nationwide. Even so, there are a number of steps an employer can take to improve equity amongst all employees. Here are just a few places to start:
Consider blind applications
Human resources professionals can start address equal pay at the very start of the hiring process by moving to applications that don’t reveal personally identifiable details about job applicants.
Be mindful of salary history
While questions about an applicant’s salary history can be useful in the hiring process, those questions can also set pay expectations unfairly low, in effect perpetuating a cycle of unequal pay established by previous employers.
Set a clear negotiation policy
Men are statistically more likely than women to benefit from salary negotiation. Some companies have had success with a policy of paying market value for all employees, with clearly defined bonuses and promotion tracks. Others have taken the tack of actively encouraging female employees to negotiate more, while training HR staff to guard against unconscious biases.
Know your data
It’s not enough to simply take it on faith that your company’s existing policies and culture are treating all employees fairly. It’s important to take stock of data like your ratio of female employees, gender-based performance ratings, and percentage of women in management and senior positions.
Get everyone involved
Many employers have an unconscious tendency to regard the gender wage gap primarily as a “women’s issue.” While it’s true that women have the most obvious stakes in addressing wage inequity, making a level playing field often requires a company-wide cultural shift. That involves stakeholders of all genders, at every level of employment. Education and training programs can be an excellent place to start.
The USWNT may have brought the gender wage inequality into sharper focus, but it’s plain to see that the issue has deep roots in America’s job culture. The conversation isn’t likely to fade from the public view any time soon, either — women in the WNBA players’ union are already gearing up for possible similar legal action when their contract expires after this season. Whatever your company’s stance on the gender wage gap may be, the time seems to be drawing near when simply ignoring the issue will no longer be an option.