Transparency is Key in Ensuring Gender Pay Equity

07/05/2016 04:52 pm ET

A common theme is emerging in the fight for equal pay: transparency. This includes putting practices into place to ensure more transparency in the public sector and encouraging private companies to be forthcoming about their efforts to ensure equal pay. It also means empowering women and men to seek out this information and use it to their advantage. Part of the problem is that many women do not know what their male counterparts are being paid, nor are they aware that they are being paid less.  For those who know they are underpaid they often do not know by how much. Transparency will help solve both of these problems.

Recently a Bureau of State Audits review in California that focused on four counties – Fresno, Los Angeles, Orange and Santa Clara – found that female employees’ total pay was between 73 percent and 88 percent of what male employees earned. The gap widened slightly during the five years reviewed, from 2010-11 through 2014-15. For example, in Los Angeles County where I live and work, women earned roughly 80 percent of the average total compensation for men in fiscal year 2010–11, but this figure dropped to 76 percent by fiscal year 2014–15.

This report from the California State Auditor recommended that lawmakers require public employers to include gender information with the payroll data they provide to the State Controller’s Office. It also said that the Legislature should publicly report gender pay disparities and periodically compare the differences in total average job compensation between male and female workers. This is an important step and I hope that lawmakers in California will follow this advice. California is already leading the way as state lawmakers approved one of the toughest equal pay laws in the country last year. I’ve written before about how the world should follow California’s lead on equal pay; I still think that the rest of the nation and federal government should take a page from California’s playbook.

Transparency in the private sector is equally important. There are several companies that are highly regarded for being transparent, one of which is Salesforce. Salesforce set an excellent example and precedent last year when the company conducted an internal audit of all 17,000 employees’ salaries to see if female employees’ pay was in line with those of male employees doing similar jobs. The findings speak for themselves – after the audit the company spent $3 million adjusting pay.

We know that this is what men and especially women want. According to Glassdoor’s Global Salary Transparency Survey, nearly 7 in 10 employees globally wish they had a better understanding of what fair pay is for their position and skill set at their company and in their local market. And nearly three quarters of respondents (72%) believe it’s good for business.

In order for transparency to pay off, working professionals need to take advantage of available information. Women need to do their homework so they have a good sense of what they are up against and what is possible. It is important to keep in mind that a person’s starting salary sets the stage for future compensation. That is not to say that a person cannot get a huge pay bump, but the chances of women catching up to men along the way is much more difficult than starting out with an equitable salary.

And we need to support women in leadership and high profile positions;  these trailblazers are setting the stage for improved conditions and standards for all women. Take actress Robin Wright who recently threatened to go public unless she received pay equal to her "House of Cards" co-star Kevin Spacey. Not every woman will have the desire or opportunity to make a bold and profound public statement like Robin Wright did. But it is important to support those that put themselves out there to create a culture of fairness and equity that has benefits reaching far beyond themselves.

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