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Why don’t women ask? Bridging the gender pay gap (Part II)

This blog is a continuation of Part 1, which I wrote almost two years ago, before going on my mat leave. 


We will look at how to bridge the gender pay gap from three different perspectives -  organizations, managers and individuals -  and the steps that can help ensure women are paid fairly and given the support required to progress in their careers.



What can I do as a manager?


Gallup’s poll of over 1 million people concluded that people don’t leave organizations; they leave bad managers. In the context of this blog, a ‘bad manager’ is someone who is not invested in their peoples’ career development or is out-of-touch and disconnected from their teams. Having a good manager is not only important for retention but also for championing equality in the workplace. 


Managers play an essential role in supporting people by being good listeners to understand people’s needs, providing feedback to help people grow and taking action. Managers are catalysts and a link between organizational policies and employees. Being in a role where you have to respond to an individual’s diverse needs can be challenging, especially when you’re doing it in an objective and unbiased way.


To help provide you with the right recommendations, I interviewed leaders from the industry who conduct performance reviews regularly. Here are some of their best tips and advice:



1. Be a trusted partner


It is very important for managers and leaders to be a trusted partner. In one of my interviews, the quote that struck me was: “As a leader, I consider it to be my job to collect the required performance feedback, collect market stats and do the calibration for the performance.”  If we have more managers who consider being fair to be their mission and a part of their role, we will have more organizations minimizing the gender pay gap and creating an industry wide impact.



2. Promote forward-looking hiring


Studies have shown that women often don’t know how to ask for a pay raise and are uncomfortable negotiating the salary they deserve. Women are also less likely to prepare for performance reviews as they assume that those around them know what they have been doing and that they will be recognized fairly.


One of the managers I interviewed shared an interesting story. She once hired an engineer and was super happy she found someone in the market at a lower rate than she expected. Now, this woman engineer was a star performer and had been kicking goals. However, every pay conversation she had with the employee felt like a kick in the gut as it always came back to the fact that she started on lower pay. Since that day, her learning has been to always “...make sure when I am hiring someone I work on giving them the maximum pay possible”, also remembering that they will not get another pay increase for almost a year once they start. She now does this regardless of gender.


Plan for adjustments in salaries when someone new joins the team. At Thoughtworks Australia, we adjust salaries of current employees when someone new with similar skills and capabilities joins at a higher pay. However, a higher salary does not always equate to higher potential even though you have to pay a premium price for unique capabilities. As a manager, recognizing this and taking steps to make the review process more objective can help. This can be done by providing feedback to improve the processes at an organizational level. Here are a few questions that can help you assess your pay review process:


  • What does the review process involve? 
  • Is there a set process for everyone to follow? 
  • How do you know what people are doing day-to-day? 
  • What are the mechanisms for measuring achievements?



3. Be an ally


As a leader it is important to be an ally. When having salary and pay conversations, create a safe environment by making women feel supported and comfortable. One of the managers I interviewed shared that talking about salaries is a taboo in our society and something she does with her employees is to ask them a direct question about their salary expectations during their pay review. Not many women speak up on the exact dollar figure they are after, and as leaders, it is important to recognize that men and women approach salary negotiation differently. Many women often struggle to be honest and upfront about their expectations; they may give hints and informally indicate their expectations instead of being direct and specific. As a leader, it is important to be that ally and ask leading questions to help you understand more about the expectations when women are not feeling comfortable to speak up.



4. Be specific about expectations


One of the managers I was speaking to told me that during every performance review conversation she asks three questions, and she makes sure they are covered regardless of the employee’s gender - these include:

  1. What was your reflection on your performance last year?

  2. What were your highs and lows?

  3. What are your goals for next year?


As a leader, you should be constantly collecting and providing feedback to your employees, and not just when it’s pay review time. It goes back to being that trusted partner. As a manager, it should be your role to collect feedback, create equal opportunities and do industry research. Even though pay review is an activity which occurs once a year, collecting and providing feedback has to happen throughout the year to make performance reviews successful.



5. Avoid unconscious bias


Having an awareness of common conscious and unconscious biases can help in limiting their effects. Often men are promoted on potential while women on performance, so how can we set the stage for equal promotion?


I would be lying to myself if I said I didn’t have any biases. Each one of us knowingly or unknowingly have some form of bias and so being aware of these biases is important, especially when making decisions. Also, having regular unconscious bias training helps in discussing these biases.


When making comparisons between men and women, be really clear on the context and expectations. Is there a reason why one person is better for the job than the other? Really ask yourself if the reason is legitimate or a bias. Are you looking from the perspective of skills required and not just personality or past experiences. Women are often assessed on personality while men are assessed for the work they do.


These are some questions I want to leave you with:  

  • What needs to happen for women to have equality in the workplace without taking a century to do it? 

  • How can we as individuals ensure we are being paid fairly? 

  • What are the responsibilities of those around us and of our organizations to help close this gap?


So far we have covered things that organizations and managers can be doing to bridge the gender pay gap. In the third and final part, we look into what you can do as an individual.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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