It's a sad and disappointing fact that women are, even now, paid about 79 cents for every dollar earned by men. The gender pay gap is much greater for minority women, with some earning nearly half that of their male peers. Although it's gotten better overall, there is still a long way to go.
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Traditional advice for correcting the substantial pay imbalance has placed much of the responsibility on women. Seek out better jobs, or become better negotiators, they say. But HR is uniquely positioned to make a measurable, positive effect both for the company and the women who work there.
Here are 4 ways that HR can be more effective in helping shrink the gender pay gap.
#1: Determine the Job's Value to the Company
Job ads are often written with obscure language about pay, sometimes stating that it's "negotiable," or "commensurate with experience." But the job, properly performed, has a certain value to the company, and that's what should be identified first.
Every job has a certain level of education and experience required, and every job has value. When a pay level is assigned to the job and not the person, there's less chance for women to receive lower compensation based on past earnings, says Deborah Ashton for Harvard Business Review.
#2: Strive to Eliminate Opportunity Biases
Opportunity can mean everything. But when women are overlooked while men are fast-tracked for promotions, assigned better sales territories or placed where there's more room for growth, pay will naturally suffer.
Eliminating biases isn't easy, but inequality in opportunity is rooted in bias. One way to help avoid it is through "open discussion" in a "peer group setting," says Ashton. This means bringing together HR with department managers, which can help distribute pay raises more fairly throughout the company.
#3: Identify Who is Accountable for Equitable Pay
Accountability is another factor that some companies miss. Who in the organization is responsible for ensuring fairness and equality in pay? Does the job lie with one person, or a whole department? Or is it so far up the chain of command that no one is really sure?
Identifying who is responsible for equitable pay can help eradicate the outdated idea that the pay structure is what it is and that there's nothing to be done about it. By tasking certain people with reviewing pay and taking steps to correct inequality, there's a tangible point of contact for addressing inequality.
#4: Support Pay Transparency
Discussing pay has long been frowned upon. In many companies, it's grounds for being fired. But how can a woman know whether she's being paid fairly if there's nothing for comparison? The Center for American Progress stresses that transparency is vital for correcting the inequalities of the past.
Ashton says that the U.S. Office of Personnel publishes pay grade salary information, which helps for women in government jobs. But what about in the private sector? Whole Foods is a leader in transparency, going as far as publishing individual pay rates for employees. And while that's a bit extreme, it provides women with more information for determining equity in pay. It's also a motivator for businesses to step up their game in closing the pay gender gap.
While the average pay gap is about 21 cents, it's much worse for some minority women. Black women earn about 60 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Native American and Asian Pacific Islander women earn 58.6 cents. Latina women fare worst, earning nearly half - 54.6 cents.
At present, efforts across the board to close the gender pay gap are just not enough. There are too many means of evasion, asserts the National Women's Law Center, such as with the Equal Pay Act and all of the subsequent loopholes that cancel out employer accountability.
With redoubled efforts, HR professionals can make meaningful strides toward eliminating inequality and getting women the pay that they deserve. Want to learn more about how you can help?