Recently, Jennifer Lawrence wrote an article on the gender pay disparity she saw in her pay negotations for the movie American Hustle. In her piece, she blamed herself for not negotiating harder. Now, I don’t know if gender accounted for that particular case of pay disparity, but I do know that this Oscar Award-winning actress was spot-on in understanding that assertiveness in a woman is not always viewed the same as it is in a man.
What is considered as laudably assertive in a man is too often viewed as unacceptably pushy, self-centered or aggressive in a woman (a scenario explained in more detail by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s in her groundbreaking book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will To Lead).
There is also a lot of debate on how big the male-female pay gap actually is. Some argue that the gap is “only” 10 percent. That number sounds low to me, too, but even if it is accurate, I don’t think most men would shrug off a 10 percent pay differential.
As for women's ability to solve the problem of pay inequity, in most organizations they lack the power to do that alone. Nor should they have that burden. The battle diverts time from their careers.
Instead, involvement by male allies is needed, and that brings me to actor Bradley Cooper. Supporting Lawrence, his costar in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, Cooper talked about sharing salary information with his female colleagues. But, wait a minute: Is this really something those of us not making film star salaries need to worry about? Even at her lower pay, Lawrence makes more money in one movie than most people make in a lifetime.
Well, yes, it matters . . . a lot. Here’s why: I may be old-fashioned, but equity always matters. Would we say "Who cares about pay discrimination?" if the professional category were sports, and race or ethnicity were the issue? I hope not. Yet, some do turn aside from gender inequity when the setting is entertainment.
And it's more than that. If movie celebrities with power don’t have, or perceive themselves as not having, bargaining power, how about what goes on in the business world with a middle-level manager? In other words, if those with power suffer pay discrimination based on sex, anyone can. And when that occurs, everyone loses.
Independent of the law, then, discrimination results in disengagement. And disengagement results in lower profits. So, what can employers do? Here are eight recommendations:
1. Acknowledge the pay problem.
Acknowledge that gender pay gaps may exist in your own organization. It is not only the employer next store.
2. Involve male allies.
Involve male allies to help those who may not see the elephant in the corporate board room. They also can reinforce the business benefits of gender equality that stand outside the legal imperative.
3. Establish salary ranges.
Consider establishing salary ranges for positions. This promotes consistency.
4. Allow for exceptions.
We know that foolish consistency can be the hobgoblin of little minds (see: Ralph Waldo Emerson). So, recognize that we may need to go outside the range, but do not allow managers to go there without prior permission from someone who can assess the legitimacy of the need.
5. Stop asking candidates about their previous salaries.
Considering eliminating any question about prior salary from the application process. It may perpetuate gender bias. The bottom of your range may look great when compared with the applicant’s prior salary, but may not be fair when you look at her (or his) experience, etc. Certainly, there may be times where prior salary is relevant, so the legislation that's been proposed in California to criminalize the question goes beyond being unreasonable.
6. Be transparent in your negotiations.
Be transparent when it comes to salary and negotiations. Make clear to all applicants if salary is negotiable. If you invite negotiations and someone does not step up, that may be an issue. If someone asks for double what you offer, that may be an issue, too.
7. Empower women.
Although empowering women is not the role of the hiring employer, employers need to encourage them -- if that's needed-- to ask for what they believe they deserve (yes, lean in). If you are a woman (or man) and are not sure what to do, seek advice from a mentor or friend (internal or external).
8. Train decision-makers.
We need to train decision-makers about the potential for unconscious bias in how they respond to negotiating by women. If we ignore this part of the equation, women may end up with not only less money when they seek pay equity, they may end up without the job itself. The reason? "Leaning in harder” was unfairly viewed as selfish. It's not.