Throughout my career, as a senior level marketing and brand strategy executive, I’ve always been an advocate for equal pay for men and women in the workplace. It’s tragic that companies tend not to provide fair compensation to women and minorities for equivalent work. I believe strongly that it’s the responsibility of all of us--white men especially--to stand up for this issue in a big way. Recently, I was called on to do just that, by serving as an advocate for a female colleague.
After running marketing and brand strategy for major social platforms, I craved a better balance in my life and decided to transition from full-time to consulting. I began working with an agency. Soon after I joined, another senior level consultant came aboard. After several months working closely together, one day we got to chatting, and I told her what I was being paid. Her cheeks flushed.
It turned out she was being paid $8k less. Our contracts were identical, our experience was equivalent. Everything was in parity--except the money. We were both embarrassed at the inequity. Yet she was also deeply grateful that I was honest with her about what I was making. My mind tried to grasp why we would be paid differently. With all other factors the same, it was hard not to feel it was because she was a woman. It made me want to speak up, of course.
We talked about how to approach this, and to my mind, it was very simple. I suggested she tell management the truth, saying, “I had a conversation with my coworker who is making X. I’m not. Can you pay me what he’s making?” She did exactly that, and our supervisor quickly adjusted her rate without repercussions. The situation was quickly fixed and our compensation was made equal, which was exactly what we wanted.
At first, my colleague wondered if the firm valued her less, but your pay isn’t necessarily a reflection of how much management values you. The decision to pay women and minorities less is more ingrained, almost instinctual. It’s not personal. It’s about the market showing for years and years that women and minorities will accept less pay. Business heads understand this. They are perpetually trying to cut costs and one way they’ve done that is by not paying women and minorities equally.
It’s management’s responsibility to make it right, but you can’t blame them for paying unequally to begin with. What we can do--men and women of all races--is engage in honest salary conversations, and work together to bring inequities to the boss when we discover them. And what we can do as executives, when team members bring these wrongs to us, is make them right. An apology is always appreciated, too.