As in-house counsel at a company whose mission is to facilitate informed conversations and decisions around compensation, the subject of a pay equity analysis is both a personal and a professional passion. I’ve been fortunate enough to speak frequently on the topic, to a wide array of audiences across industries, and I love seeing a room of professionals fired up, ready to go to work championing pay equity at their organization.
What has come as a bit of a surprise to me is when I hear from those same professionals that their pay equity efforts are brought to a sudden halt when they engage their legal team, an alliance I consider critical and should be forged early in the pay equity analysis process. How do you move toward ensuring pay equity when your own legal department shuts you down?
Here are a couple thoughts, straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth:
With Very Little Exception, Your Legal Department Is Not the Final Say
Your legal team might hate me for telling you this, but very rarely is their opinion the final say. Instead, that final decision comes from the business, the client of your in-house counsel. Of course, the decision should be an informed one – which may mean Legal weighing in – but if your business’ leadership determines that a pay equity analysis should be undertaken, your legal team will simply have to get onboard. If you’re getting a “no” from Legal, escalate your ask to executives outside of the legal department.
Make It Easy for Your Leadership to Say “Yes”
It’s no wonder that talk around pay equity causes some folks to break out in a cold sweat: the headlines have not been kind to businesses that have been found to be in violation of pay equity laws. The great news is that companies have the ability to write their own story. SalesForce, Inc. is a fantastic example of a company that has been celebrated by the media (and its employees) for its pay equity efforts, despite having a self-admitted pay equity problem that required repeat fixes! I highly recommend reviewing their story, especially how SalesForce’s Chief of Personnel got buy-in from the CEO for a pay equity analysis by starting from a position of alignment – their shared belief that men and women should be paid equally. In spite of my law-centric profession, I love starting the conversation around pay equity from a place of values and “what is right”. Another compelling reason to undertake a pay equity analysis is that pay equity is, for the vast majority of businesses, required by federal law and, now, state law. Simply pointing out the existence of general pay equity laws at the federal and state level can often be enough to get leadership’s attention or, even better, direction from leadership that legal counsel perform an exhaustive analysis of what pay equity laws apply to your particular organization. Once you’ve gotten leadership’s blessing to move forward with the pay equity analysis, your conversation with Legal can switch to one of partnership, strategy, and execution.
Many (Or Skilled) Hands Make Light Work
Speaking of partnership, strategy, and execution – it may be that your legal department’s initial reaction was driven by a place of scarcity. Few in-house legal teams have experience conducting a pay equity analysis, which could be why your legal team said “no” to the request. To address this barrier, consider asking leadership to allocate resources for outside counsel with pay equity expertise. You may even be able to hire outside counsel as a skill-building opportunity for your in-house legal team. It’s possible that your legal department does not have the bandwidth to take on the additional work a pay equity analysis would require. This issue could, however, be alleviated by hiring a temp to assist with some of the team’s day-to-day legal work while the pay equity analysis is ongoing or, again, outsourcing the majority of the analysis to outside counsel. Recognize potential stressors and solve for them to support the success of the pay equity analysis. With any luck, it will also help build inroads for future projects with your legal department.
It is almost never easy getting buy-in on performing a pay equity analysis, and sometimes a company’s legal department provides the most significant resistance, but I believe pay equity is a critical goal that we shouldn’t easily give up on. I hope these tips provide some possible solutions in your pay equity efforts and encourage you to not just take “no” from your legal team.