Three Questions to Ask Your Employer on Equal Pay Day (And Beyond)

Despite strides made in recent decades toward equal opportunity, the wage gap has remained a stubborn and painful reminder of the inequality that we have yet to overcome. Beth Steinberg, our Chief People Officer, gives us three questions to ask our employers on Equal Pay Day.

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Beth Steinberg

Despite strides made in recent decades toward equal opportunity, the wage gap has remained a stubborn and painful reminder of the inequality that we have yet to overcome. Today, on Equal Pay Day, it’s important to reflect on why that is the case.

There are a huge number of reasons the gender wage gap persists, with many problematic assumptions and much of gendered socialization taking effect long before people even enter the workforce. Different perceptions of female vs. male ambition, entrenched stereotypes about female vs. male jobs, and gender divided models of parenthood (among many other things) combine to create a monster of a problem that is more than capable of perpetuating itself. And most of these stereotypes stem from our larger society, making them that much more difficult to combat.

I don’t say all this to appear pessimistic, but I believe the pay gap must be understood before it can be solved: in order to treat the underlying infection, employers must commit themselves to systemic and institutional change.

While this change will take years — most likely decades — to become the norm, in the meantime, there are questions that all employees should ask to push for pay equity in their own workplaces. These tips are not just for female employees — in fact, having male employees ask these same questions can go long way in elevating discourse on the subject and creating change.

Here are the three equal pay questions you should start with:

How did you determine my salary offer?

All employers should strive for greater pay transparency, but if your employer is not open about compensation across the company, asking them to consider why they decided to pay you what they do is a great place to start. A survey of SMB employees and employers released by Zenefits yesterday indicates that the top four metrics used by SMBs are: prior experience; predetermined ranges set by the company; educational background; and salary history. The last metric is especially interesting because as of 2018, asking an applicant for their current salary is illegal in certain states and cities. The reasoning behind these policies is that employees who have been underpaid, potentially as a result of gender or racial bias, will continue to be underpaid at future companies, perpetuating inequality.

What is your process for ensuring equal pay?

This question takes the first one a step further. While all employers should consider pay equity at a tactical level, if your employer does not yet have a transparent process for ensuring pay equity, this could be a good way to initiate a conversation about how this lack of action may be harming employees. If the company does have a process in place, the problem may be that its leaders are failing to communicate it effectively. One reason it is important to ask this question — our research found that employers tend to massively misjudge how well their employees perceive their performance in regards to compensation, hiring, development, diversity, and culture: for instance, 79 percent of small business owners indicate that they take steps to support pay equity, but only 51 percent of employees say the same. A nudge from an employee that more effort and better communication may be in order could help open their eyes to the reality of their workplace.

What is your parental/family leave policy? (and do employees take advantage of it?)

This question– and its follow up– are especially critical for male employees to ask. The more that taking parental leave is seen as a norm and priority for new parents of all genders, the more likely employers will be to offer leave and the more likely new mothers and fathers will feel empowered to take it. Since a primary cause of the wage gap is the fact that many women vs. relatively few men take time off when they have children, ensuring that new parents have strong institutional support when leaving and returning to the workforce can have a big influence in ensuring that women are paid fairly as their careers progress.

Ultimately, it will be up to employers and company leadership to ensure that comprehensive policies and programs are enacted to combat bias and pay inequality. That being said, asking your employer questions like these ones could be the push they need to acknowledge that a problem exists and that employees are paying attention. That is the first step towards equal pay.

Relate: Representation Matters | Beth Steinberg and the Women of Zenefits

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