On Equal Pay Day, the gap is still too wide

Equal Pay Day falls on April 12 in 2016. It's an important reminder of how far we still need to go to achieve gender-pay equity in the workplace. The actual date is calculated annually to measure how far into the new year women must work in order to earn what men earned in the previous year.

dollars and cents
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As recently as the 1980s, the pay gap between men and women in the workplace was vast — 60 cents on the dollar, by some estimates — meaning women would have had to work over two years to make a man's annual income.

Today it stands at 24 cents on the dollar, so for every dollar the average man makes in the workplace, the average woman makes 24 cents less. Progress is being made, but not fast enough.

Now, it has been proven that gender equality is good for business. We know, for example, that gender-diverse companies are 15 percent more likely to outperform companies that aren't as diverse, according to a recent report from the Peterson Institute for International Economics. And that if a company has at least 30 percent female leadership, this can add up to 6 percentage points to their profit margins.

The business case for diversity is clear, so why has the global-pay gap been so difficult to dent?

Consider the dynamics of pay inequality. When young men and young women start out in the workforce, that gap for women is 10 cents on the dollar less than men. As their careers unfold, that gap for women grows to 24 cents on the dollar.

The pay gap widens because of each transaction that occurs after a woman is hired into the workforce, with raises often pegged as a percentage of what she was earning before. If she starts out with less, the gap widens with each transaction she makes. Factor in longer life expectancy and women staying in the workforce longer, and this becomes a lifelong problem.

At Accenture, one of the surest ways we've found to close this persistent gap is to put women in decision-making roles for budgets and compensation. We have three women on our compensation committee of the board, and therefore we can look at the numbers and ask the hard questions. Is there true pay equity here?

Across the company we look at the pay of women versus men at a very granular level and in all the countries where we do business. By doing so, we've recalibrated the way we measure compensation by seeing each position in terms of the value and worth of the job itself.

At its heart, this approach is about measuring contribution rather than face time. As primary caregivers, women are often disadvantaged by traditional structural barriers at work, so flexible work environments where the measure is results, not volume of hours worked, is important. Through a traditional lens, value would be established by questions like: Does a person put in long hours at the office? Are they happy to join their boss or a client for dinner and drinks after office hours? These are not good measures of the value of their contribution.

A rigorous pay equity auditing process not only helps to identify problems so they can be fixed immediately, but can help companies alter this traditional and deeply rooted mindset. With a clear process in place, backed by data and regular reporting, companies can start to value the jobs and what gets accomplished in those jobs, rather than valuing the person and how and when they complete the work.

This clarity and transparency builds trust, helping to engage your people. If employees know the expectations of their positions, as well as their worth and value on a regular basis, they can have more honest and more productive discussions around career development and compensation. This is especially true for women.

The bottom line at Accenture? By studying the numbers and being transparent with the findings, the greater buy-in we had across our organization, and the faster we recalibrated our compensation by putting in place ongoing pay audits, the faster we deliver our promise to our women employees. We have rigorous processes in place to identify discrepancies and, if we identify a problem, we fix it — for both our women and our men.

Next year, Equal Pay Day will be a little earlier in April. Day by day and year by year, we're moving closer to true dollar-to-dollar pay equity — but it shouldn't take us another 35 years to get to Jan. 1.

Commentary by Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership and Human Resources Officer at Accenture. Follow her on Twitter @EllynJShook1.

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