Pay Equity without Structured Pay is Just Talk

Can a white male like me be objective about pay equity?

My mother was a feminist. She was also a trainer and nurtured my interest in developing others. She was not only Northwestern University-educated, but she came from a business family and she knew the real world.

I have heard about gender pay equity since the 1960s. Really. No kidding. There were copies of “Ms.” magazine at home, the feminist manifesto, basically. I grew up with a deep sensitivity to fairness. My siblings called me “Father Tom” because I often found myself arbitrating (or having) arguments with them. My mom was from a strict Catholic family where convictions of right and wrong are deep. My dad was a California kid nicknamed Pedro (part Mexican), more laid back, with a simple, less activist sense of fairness, except that he was never paid what he was worth, just like my mom. He was an artist, she a writer.

I am white male, but I have never relied on privilege. I have worked to earn money since age 10. By age 18 I’d had 6 different employers, 10 bosses and a Teamster’s Union membership ID card. I worked in a factory during summer breaks, where one day another guy and I were assigned to dump frozen strawberries into a large container. This other guy, a black guy, and I each manually lifted 20 tons in a single day, dumping a 40-pound tin every 10 seconds. At the end of the day, we had pulled muscles and were drenched in sweat. We looked at each other and nodded in mutual respect when our shift was over. Don’t ever accuse me of privilege.

I was a working student. I maintained a ‘B’ average most of my life. By 19 I was assistant manager of a shoe store, then I supervised a grocery store where I sometimes helped customers by carrying out to their car two 100-pound bags of flour under my arms. By 20 I fired someone for smoking dope. At age 25, I was published by the Wall Street Journal, graduated with honors as Outstanding Management Student, and had four years of actual management experience. But I was first exposed to salary administration at age 24, while taking courses in salary administration, and working part-time as a personnel clerk in a real HR department, doing salary surveys. This was in 1985. No connections, no open doors, no privilege. Just followed my curiosity and was never afraid of hard work.

Back then, the HR profession was already shifting from male-dominance to female dominance, as corporate priorities shifted from union relations to non-discrimination. Women on a quest for equal opportunity and equal pay were encouraged by Civil Rights laws passed in the 1960’s and they were intent on claiming their rights, and achieving positions of power. So they became HR people. So in 1985, I began actually working with pay data. I saw the names, the salaries, but I also paid attention to the job titles and performance ratings.Pay equity

HR and social justice agendas

My first corporate HR job was with a large company. Between me and the CEO were three levels of women, two of them clearly enjoying their “power trip” managing men like me and one (a former nun) just working hard to do the right thing. You are sensing a sexist attitude? I was actually a harassment victim one day, when a woman pressed herself against me and the wall, completely by surprise and very intentionally. She quickly apologized, then explained that she had been abused as a girl. We are close friends to this day. Since then, I have worked for some great bosses, both men and women. I have worked for some real assholes who did not respect women, and some real sexist women who told me to only hire women for high-paying roles, which resulted in some bad hires to be honest. What I am saying is: I am not just another privileged white male giving lip service to pay equity to soothe my conscience. I have hired, coached, developed and promoted females, and to this day, many women of several races count me as a mentor. I’ve known fair men, fair women, sexist men and sexist women.

In short, my brain is hard-wired for fairness in the workplace. I neither discriminate for, nor against women. They do not deserve higher pay or lower pay than men. Women, like men, deserve to be paid for what they do and how well they do it, period. My career as a rewards professional has been devoted to paying people for what they do and how well they do it. I teach these principles to hundreds each year, both the how and the why. I stay quite busy as well helping my clients apply these principles to develop better pay systems, systems that do not discriminate except for the right reasons.

Women, like men, deserve to be paid for what they do and how well they do it.

What is fair pay?

Consider Olympic scoring. There is the difficulty score and the execution/performance score, which combined determine the total score. Olympic competitors are scored based on what they do and how well they do it. And this is the basic concept underpinning modern corporate compensation programs.

Without getting too technical, large organizations manage their largest expense—salaries—by paying people for what they do, using job evaluation methods to assign jobs to pay grades. When people are assigned to jobs, and jobs are evaluated into pay grades, then you can pay individuals within salary ranges linked to grades, based on their performance, through annual merit reviews or other rewards.

Pay equity laws do not state that men and women should be paid equally. They state that men and women doing the same work, or in some cases work of equal worth, must be paid the same, except for differences attributable to performance or other work-related factors other than their sex.

Clearly, a woman working as receptionist is not entitled the same pay as a man working as a department manager. But a female department manager should be paid the same as a male department manager, all things being equal such as department size, performance, etc.

So it is essential that an organization wishing to pay fairly must have a process for grading jobs and for paying individuals based on performance, in those jobs.

How do you grade jobs? How do you know which women to compare to which men? It boils down to mundane job descriptions, plus well-designed methods for measuring which jobs are bigger than others, which we in the profession refer to as job evaluation.

How do you know which women to compare to which men? …you must have sound processes for job evaluation and performance-based pay.

Before you can achieve pay equity, your organization must have sound processes for job evaluation/grading, and for performance-based pay.

I will not explain in detail the ‘how’ of job evaluation and performance-based pay in a blog. It is not possible. Attend one of my courses offered through SNEF, such as Comp 101 or Comp 102. Or contact me.

Talk is cheap. Job evaluation and transparent performance-based pay systems enable action, fairness, and gender pay equity.


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