Closing the Gender Gap Will Accelerate Innovation

Employers must create an action toolkit to close the opportunity gap
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

This article appears in the October 2019 issue. Click here for a free subscription.

The Seattle area’s gender wage gap is one of the widest in the country and has direct consequences for our local labor market, our regional economy and our quality of life. On average, women who work full time year-round earn just 79 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Furthermore, women of color face an even wider gap in both pay and advancement opportunity in the workplace. In a recent study of professionals with bachelor’s degrees or higher, PayScale found that African American, Hispanic and Native American women face the most daunting uncontrolled pay gap, earning 26% less than their white male counterparts.

PayScale notes, “What often gets lost in translation is what the uncontrolled wage gap truly represents — that women are less likely to hold high-level, high-paying jobs than men. There are structural barriers that keep women from advancing in the workplace. This is what we call the opportunity gap.”

So what can be done to change some of these sobering statistics and speed up our progress toward pay equity? Elected officials are doing their part to pass legislation to close the gaps, and there are fantastic classes and coaches to teach women negotiation skills and brand-building prowess, but employers have a role — and a responsibility — to do their part.

Trends show that employers are recognizing this gap and embracing the data that shows diversity, equity and inclusion aren’t just good practices, but good for business. Diverse and inclusive workplace cultures lead to increased innovation, a deeper understanding of customer needs and better business outcomes in general.

Moreover, it is becoming clear that it will be impossible to attract and retain Generation Z talent if an organization isn’t demonstrating that diversity, equity and inclusion are central to a company’s values and practices. In our work with employers who are committed to helping advance pay equity, we are often asked, “How much will it cost our company to close our gaps?” That’s a great question.

We love it when companies are willing to “write the check” and put their money where their commitment is. What is equally important for companies to explore, however, is the systemic factors that contribute to the wage gap: unconscious bias in organizational culture and hiring, negotiations and performance-evaluation practices; the need for flexible work arrangements and equal female representation in senior leadership; and better pipelines for women and girls into middle- and high-wage industries. When employers engage in applying best practices to retain and develop the best talent, we’ll truly begin to move the needle.

Following are a few of the actions companies can take that have proven to be effective in this effort:
• Adopt policies that foster an inclusive culture.
• Enlist diverse evaluators in hiring.
• Create an initial applicant screening that is free of gender bias.
• Conduct regular compensation evaluations for employees of all levels.
• Regularly train managers on conducting effective performance evaluations.
• Train managers to manage a flexible workforce.
• Offer onsite or subsidized child care, child care referral or back-up child care services.
• Actively recruit women to executive-level and board positions.
While no one approach is a panacea, these are just a small sample of actions that employers and industries can employ and tailor to their unique business needs and environments. When women participate in the workplace equally, 100% of our local talent is empowered to innovate and grow business — and billions of dollars are put to work in the economy. As employers working together, we can create a more inclusive economy and vibrant Seattle for all.

Dani Carbary and Tara Buchan serve as national directors of Women in Work at The Riveter. Contact Carbary at dani.carbary@theriveter.co. and Buchan at tara.buchan@theriveter.co or check out The Riveter’s website (theriverter.co) to learn about its efforts to build equity, diversity and community support in the workplace.

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