Putting Pay Equity into Practice

Ten years ago, BCNM began research that was eventually released as “74% – Exploring the lives of Women in Nonprofit Organizations”.  One of the primary findings was a gap in salaries between female and male executives, particularly in organizations with an annual budget over 7 million.  Women executives, we learned, were earning approximately 74 cents for every dollar that was paid to men.  While this study revealed trends on the executive level, there are similar national and international trends in wage inequity for a variety of groups – ranging from people of color to people with disabilities.

The latest iteration of BCNM’s biannual wage and benefits survey indicated that the pay gap originally identified had significantly decreased – now the earning gap was 81 cents on the dollar.  It’s great news, but also begs new questions – what was going on behind the scenes that made the change?   Perhaps board members were making time to consider the list of HR questions that BCNM generated.  Possibly they were also making some changes in hiring or promotion practices.

What kind of actual, on-the-ground hiring practices lead to equitable pay? A few years ago, Vu Le of Ranier Valley Corps wrote a blog post naming the disclosure of salary ranges as a way to promote equity, both with new hires and inside of the organization.  One of the points of the post was women and others who often find themselves paid less than the industry average get caught in a cycle if new salaries are based on incremental upticks on past, discriminatory salaries. Furthermore, Vu argued, time is a privilege. It’s harder for lower-earning but highly qualified people to spend their time angling for jobs that they can’t ultimately afford to take. The comment section lit up with relief on his perspective and stories of past frustrations.  Some states have been considering the same idea for the same reasons and nine have currently enacted legislation banning employers from asking about salary history (Pittsburgh bans salary history questions, but only for City positions).

However, executive director searches are located with the board of trustees, not HR.  Will salary disclosure work towards equity in these cases? Susan Egmont, a search consultant in Boston and a friend of BCNM, feels that many boards approach hiring a new director the way that people approach buying houses.  They may have a fixed budget and set of most desirable qualities in mind at the start, but the search itself often educates them about a reasonable salary given the market as well as highlight criteria that weren’t originally on their radar.  In those cases, publishing a wage range at the start of a search may discourage qualified, diverse applicants from applying.  Wage equity in hiring at the top level, in her experience, is promoted by a diverse set of people and perspectives on the board, as well as a collective understanding of what the job is worth.

There is no one practice that can eliminate wage discrimination within organizations.  BCNM’s research indicated that larger organizations where there was a woman board chair and a woman executive, there was even greater wage inequity.  This gives some indication of the complexity of the issue, and the way that cultural practices and assumptions have generational impacts.

In considering whether disclosing salary ranges for open positions and prohibiting questions on salary history can be a tool for equity in your organization, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do we hire a number of people with the same job description, or do we write customized job descriptions for each new hire? (it’s easier to implement this policy when you have standard job descriptions)
  • What information do we currently provide about our compensation policies to existing staff?
  • How can we educate ourselves on the market before we publish our posting?

Equity can be explored both as an art and a science.  We need creativity as well as ongoing, intentional testing to reach the dollar for dollar mark.

Interested in creating more transparency and equitable salary distributions in your organization? BCNM consultants may be able to help.  Contact loucks@rmu.edu for more information. 

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