PayScale’s third annual Equal Pay Day event just wrapped up. We had a great group of HR leaders, executives and D&I professionals in attendance and we had some rich, honest conversations about how organizations can make real, and faster, progress on pay equity for women, people of color and other historically marginalized populations in the labor market.
Too often, though, organizations get mired in discussions around the ideal approach or legal considerations and are stalled before they even start. The intention for this year’s Equal Pay Day event at PayScale is to move away from one-size-fits-all, high-level discussions and toward cultivating real tactics that can be implemented within organizations. Our goal for the attendees was to leave the event with a vision for what’s possible as well as some actionable takeaways that can be implemented sooner rather than later.
Creating an environment for truly equitable earning power touches a lot of different areas. So, we invited leaders who work in the HR and D&I space to lead small-group discussions on everything that matters to ensure equal opportunities for all employees. These work sessions covered everything from pay equity analyses to overcoming legal objections to recruiting to career advancement.
The discussion I participated in was around recruiting and staffing. This discussion was led by Steven Matley and Felecia Caldwell. Steven is the founder and CEO of SM Diversity, an experienced boutique staffing and recruiting firm catering to the technology sector. Felecia is the founding Director of Workforce Equity for the City of Seattle, Department of Human Resources, where she leads the implementation of the City’s first ever Workforce Equity Strategic Plan.
I was joined by about a dozen professionals in the group. Our group was able to share their own challenges in their journey to help their organizations increase pipeline diversity and come up with some smart tactics to help overcome resistance. Below, I’ve highlighted the key takeaways from our work session.
Challenge: What if My Executives Don’t Acknowledge the Problem?
In advancing pay equity and inclusion, one of the biggest challenges talent acquisition leaders and HR leaders are up against is that the decision-makers (executives) do not believe that there is a problem with representation in their department or organization. When a TA manager talks to her department head about why it’s important to cultivate a more diverse candidate pipeline, the response goes like this:
“We don’t have a problem. We already have a diverse team. Our diversity stats are better than the industry average”.
The challenge is, how can you make leaders understand that under-presentation of certain groups of minorities within their organization is a problem?
Our group came up with several tactics you can apply to get your leadership team to acknowledge the problem. And several more on what you can do to make progress on the issue.
1. Talk about how a diverse employee base helps the organization accomplish key business goals.
An organization needs to have diverse staff — staff who understand the experiences of its target customers — in order to develop products and messaging that will resonate with customers. In this sense, diversity represents a competitive advantage for a business.
To support this point, Felecia put out this example: let’s say a city government is thinking about building a new swimming pool in a city park. If you don’t have a Black woman in the water facilities department, you would have a blindspot on the facility design, and may end up creating a facility that will not be used by anyone with natural hair. This would be a big missed opportunity for a business.
We all need to show executives and HR and other decision makers that not only is diversity the “best” option, it is the best for their efficiency and bottom line.
To make your case, keep a running list of examples of how product launches and marketing campaigns went very wrong because the team didn’t have the “right” voices –those that understand the experience of the target customers –in the room.
Show decision-makers the risks you can bring upon your organization when diverse perspectives are missing from key decisions. Risks may include a botched campaign, lack of sales, lack of adoption, loss of long-time customers, having to recall a product from stores. These are all consequences brands have faced because they made poor decisions that angered their customer base. After all, no senior leader wants their brand to be face of the next PR crisis.
Source: Washington Post’s article on the Dove Campaign which had missed the mark with a not-so-valuable racist advertisement that made it the target of consumer rage.
Additionally, it is important to use your voice to highlight and elevate good behaviors. For example, if you just saw a panel that featured diverse speakers, mention it to your colleagues. You might say: “It was so nice that they had a woman on that panel and an Asian facilitator.” Recognizing good behaviors sets a positive tone and teaches those in privileged positions about why representation matters.
2. Reach the influencers that decision-makers will listen to
A decision-maker may not hear a problem when it comes from YOU. However, their ears may perk up as soon as they hear the same words from someone else they respect within the organization (e.g. another male executive). Your job is to find and connect with allies and advocates in your organization who have clout with the decision-maker. Share your experiences with these allies and advocates, then ask them to speak up on your behalf.
3. Create an Employee Resource Group at your organization
An employee resource group (an ERG) goes by many names, such as business resource group,employee network and team member network, just to name a few. Employee resource groups are organized around employees who share common characteristics, such as race, gender, national origin or sexual orientations.
ERGs are business assets — because these groups can act as a sounding board to leadingship for important business decisions. ERGs can have multiple positive effects on the organization including reduced turnover rates, encouraging organizational goal achievement, and increasing productivity rates within the organization. When you present the idea of an ERG to a leadership team, mention specific goals with the creation of the group, align ERG goals with organizational goals to maximize ERG success.
When you start a group, it’s also beneficial to invite allies in the group. Allies are individuals that do not share the group’s characteristics, but are eager to learn more and show their support.
4. Cultivate a safe environment so people can be honest with you
According to Steven, we have an empathy gap in corporate workplaces. Leaders can get stuck in a bubble, because they’re spending all of their time with other executives and not enough time with employees who feel marginalized. These leaders don’t even realize that they have employees who are dealing with negative experiences like discrimination at work. They might think that “Things must be fine because my employees aren’t saying anything is wrong.”
Steven pointed out that the real problem is that the leader hasn’t made the environment safe enough for employees to reveal their true identity or voice their frustrations at work. If employees feel like they might be targeted, might be labeled as “rebels”, or put their jobs at risk when they speak up, they will keep mum.
As a leader, it is your job to make create an environment of safety, acceptance, and inclusion so that employees can be open and honest about who they are without fear of repercussion. By demonstrating empathy, leaders will invite conversations and finally hear what they need to hear to improve their empathy.
5. Use your social capital
If you are in a position of power in your organization, it’s important to be intentional about what you are doing to level the playing field. For example, if you are responsible for hiring staff for a division, can you sponsor an event for Black students (or veterans or people who’ve taken a sabbatical from work) who are looking to break into your industry?
To wrap up the discussion, Steven challenged all of us with these questions: “As a leader, what are you doing for your community? How are you using your social capital?”
Want more content on how you can accelerate progress towards pay equity and equal opportunities at your workplace?
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