By: Terri Hopkinson, a Laurier Institution Blog Contributor
The UN estimates the gender wage gap worldwide to be 23%. This percentage fluctuates from country to country, but the data is overwhelming: women and people of other genders are substantially underpaid compared to their cisgender male peers. And the problem just gets worse when you look at it from an intersectional standpoint. Women of colour on average make less than white women and disabled people even less than that.
Cultural expectations of AFAB (assigned female at birth) people drive this phenomenon but the concrete causes are far-reaching and intertwined. From the time we are children, AFAB people are expected to take on the lion’s share of domestic and emotional labour. This leaves less time and energy for school, work, and networking. The way we are raised forms a pipeline away from higher-paid careers. Deep-rooted misogynistic views on “women’s work” lead to society regarding female-dominated fields as less valuable. It leads to AFAB people in male-dominated fields losing promotions.
These complex issues cannot be solved with a simple solution. However, there is still an onus on individual companies to ensure they are not part of the problem. Companies can make a lasting difference by looking closely at their hiring practices, salary and promotion policies, and the habits of their managers.
Fix Existing Discrepancies
Identifying the problem is the first step towards finding a solution. Use an internal audit to discover any discrepancies in employee salaries. Are your female employees getting raises and bonuses comparable to their male counterparts? How about people of colour when compared to their white peers? Also important: were their starting salaries commensurate with their skills, education, and experience? With this data in hand, you can start to make a plan to not only fix the current problems but also to ensure your employees are given equal treatment in the future.
Eliminate Unconcious Bias in Hiring
One thing that affects the wage gap from the get-go is the hiring process and the unconscious biases that can crop up anywhere from resume screening to final negotiations. Employers may overlook qualified candidates right at the start. Often, resumes attached to masculine, white-sounding names have a much higher chance of getting an interview. This occurs even when other factors such as experience and education are identical. This isn’t to say that all or even most hiring managers are intentionally setting aside the resumes of women and people of colour. However, their perception of a candidate, even from such a small detail, can unconsciously change how they regard the other details of a resume.
A relatively easy way to remove the opportunity for this unconscious bias is to screen resumes blindly, at least in the very initial stage of the recruitment process. Simply by blacking out or removing names from resumes, you can help your company avoid contributing to the wage gap by widening the pool of people considered for a given role.
Improve Salary Policies
Salary policies come next. It may be that your company needs clearer defined roles and the salaries that go with them. Similarly, you may need more specific expectations for what levels of experience and quality of performance qualify for which ranges of pay. The intention here is not to over bureaucratize the process. It’s certainly not to make it harder for employees to get the pay they deserve. The goal is to make it easier for employers to spot discrepancies and to recognize when a raise is in order.
Also, refrain from punishing employees who share their salary. It is legal (at least in Canada and the United States) for workers to share their salaries with their colleagues. But, companies often discourage the practice. Sometimes they will even find ways to push offending employees out of their jobs. Some companies also require a salary confidentiality agreement. This begs the question though – does discouraging transparency protect the company? Or does it just protect the inequality and discrimination of the wage gap?
Be Conscious of Work-Life Balance
Broadly speaking, work-life balance looks different for cisgender men and then it does for other genders. As I mentioned in the intro, AFAB people are more likely to take on unpaid domestic labour on top of a full-time job. When (white) AFAB people in the western world first joined the workforce, there was no one to take over the already full-time job of household management. For the longest time, we continued to do both.
Although things are slowly improving, along with household management, AFAB people are still mostly the ones to manage the social and emotional lives of male partners. Not only are AFAB people expected to do these tasks, but to also carry the emotional labour of tracking what tasks need to be done. Because of this, cisgender men are more able to put in longer hours at the office. They don’t have a second full-time job to get home to. We judge people who regularly work overtime to be harder workers. But, it’s important to recognize the privilege that comes with a majority of your labour being visible (and paid).
Childcare is another big issue when it comes to the wage gap. Some employers cite concerns that cisgender female employees will leave to have children (whether she personally plans on having kids or not). For the most part, society still expects this as well. Obviously, on a personal level, plenty of women would prefer to keep working. Plenty of men would be happy to stay home. However, if one parent does need to leave their job for childcare, it makes better financial sense for the parent with the lower salary to do so. For heterosexual couples, this is usually the male partner. In other words, AFAB people are being paid less because they might leave the workforce and AFAB people are leaving the workforce because they are being paid less.
Although these are issues that occur outside the workplace, companies need to be conscientious of them by encouraging a work-life balance across the board. Not only is this equitable, but it will also boost morale.
Even the Playing Field
An unconscious bias can creep in again at the managerial level. This can be key to discovering where discrepancies come from. When it comes to rewarding performance, it’s easier to find good work where you’re already looking for it. Intentionally or not, people are often more inclined to work closely with and listen to people like them. This can create a perpetual cycle. If the cycle starts with a white cisgender man, then more white cisgender men get promoted over equally qualified peers. This isn’t just a matter of who the manager likes best, either. It’s more gradual and subtle than that. You’re going to promote the person who’s succeeding on big projects and bringing good ideas… but how did he get the big project and who’s ideas is he speaking over?