#SXSW – Danger in Silence: #TimesUp for Pay Inequity

Happy International Women’s Day!

Did you know that women still make 79 cents to every dollar a man makes? What if I told you that figure drops to 62 cents for black women, and 47 cents for Latina women?

Despite the progress pay inequity has made, women and women of color specifically, are still losing huge sums of money throughout their lifetimes compared to men. It’s unfortunate that we still have to talk about unequal pay in 2019, but the South by Southwest (SXSW) panel, Danger in Silence: #TimesUp for Pay Inequity, did a fantastic job at discussing the parallels between the #MeToo and Equal Pay movements, particularly how silence and sector norm further injustice.

The panel featured a notable lineup: Nekpen Osuan, CEO of WomenWerk, Charlotte Burrows, Commissioner, US Office of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Kristy Wallace, CEO of Ellevate Network, and Hise Gibson, Military Officer and MIT Fellow at the Lincoln Labs.

We Need to Talk About Equal Pay Year-Round

Every year, the equal pay discussion returns to the mainstream, often forgotten during the later half of the year only to be brought back up again in March and April without any real progress. But what can we do about it? Nekpen Osuan says that “keeping equal pay top of mind is crucial to the success of the movement, and it’s important to not just discuss it when there are notable lawsuits, or when news stories break of celebrities being underpaid.”

How do we Know the Gender Pay Gap Exists?

Despite 1 in 3 Americans not believing that the gender pay gap exists, the reality is that it does.

Not only have most women experienced it first hand, but data proves that women are underpaid for the same roles as men. More specifically, white women will lose out on over $400,000 in lifetime earnings compared to men, and that figure doubles for black women. When we think about the impact of what $800,000 could do for a black woman’s family, education, etc. the issue becomes even more pressing.

In fact, more and more, companies are beginning to disclose their gender pay gap data with aims to close their own inequities. Most recently, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff went to great lengths to do this for his SF-based tech giant. Benioff’s team ended up identifying a $3 million gender pay gap within their organization and spent the sum to balance salaries across the 29,000-employee company.

“Smart managers understand that pay equality is a win-win” – Charlotte Burrows

Some Background on Equal Pay in the U.S.

In retrospect, equal pay is a new concept in the United States. In fact, in the 1930’s, it was actually illegal to pay women the same as men. The U.S. federal government required that women were to be paid 30 cents less than men, so for more than 3 decades pay inequity was a societal norm.

It wasn’t until 1963 when President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, which prohibited pay discrimination based on gender, that it became illegal to pay women less than men. Why is then that women still face a pay gap over 55 years later? It all starts at the beginning of women’s careers.

The Gap Grows Over Time

The more money you make, the bigger the pay gap actually is for women. And when you add in women of color, the gap widens even more.

Since the gap begins from day one in a woman’s career, the inequity compounds every time they move jobs, get promoted, or have children. Additionally, bonuses that are based on salary further perpetuate the gender pay gap.

Though recent laws have began addressing this, many states still allow companies to ask employees about their previous salaries. This prevents women from ever breaking out of the pay discrimination they face. If companies can use past salaries (which are often already lower than they should have been), then they can use those salaries as justification for their lower offers.

What Can we Learn From the U.S. Military?

Later in the session, panelist Hise Gibson brought some expertise from an unexpected background: the Department of Defense.

Surprisingly enough, the U.S. Military has a good reputation for equal pay. Gibson went into more detail about why:

Way back in 1794, the United States Military adopted England’s military pay policies. It wasn’t until the 1960’s until military members began making real noise about the lack of proper pay, and soon after the U.S. instituted pay raises to close the gap.

But that was just to close the gap on military pay vs. non-military citizens – it did not address gender pay, but that’s because gender was taken out of the equation all together. In the Military, an officer is an officer, regardless of gender or ethnicity.

The best part about military pay from a gender equality lens is that it’s all dependent on rank and tenure. This transparency and openness is what eliminated their gender pay gap. Since all trajectories are known, members of the military know what they need to do to get higher pay, and all gender differences are neutralized.

What Can we do About it?

Here is each speaker’s advice for actions we can all take:

Charlotte Burrows: “Figure out if there’s a pay secrecy rule in your organization, and make noise about it. Many of these policies were implemented 20 yrs ago and haven’t been revisited. Organization leaders are in a state of uncertainty and are aware of the change that needs to be made. Do your homework, and make change.”

Kristy Wallace: “Normalize talking about money. Support other women talking about inequity. Talk to your business leaders to make this conversation louder. Use your voice as a citizen and go vote and be engaged in policy.”

Hise Gibson: “Your organization’s most important resource is its people. Make sure you are actually demonstrating it by paying everyone equally. Employees have a lot more say than they’ve ever had, and they’re ready to walk.”

Osuan – Vote your values! Our administration is holding back everyone trying to make progress on pay equity. Don’t stay home women, go vote!

Stay tuned for more coverage of the Future Workplace sessions at SXSW2019.

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