A Just and Inclusive Workplace is Essential to Sustain Our Democracy

In 2017, the increased public visibility of the #MeToo movement made clear we were not doing enough to make the workplace safe from sexual harassment. In 2020, #BlackLivesMatter organizing similarly forced a broader and overdue reckoning with how deeply racial inequity runs in many institutions — including our nation’s workplaces.

The images of the first week of 2021 – a Confederate flag carried through the halls of Congress, people in the crowd breaking into the Capitol wearing shirts emblazoned with slogans about genocide of the Jewish people, a Black police officer against a mostly white crowd of insurrectionists – reinforce the urgency of our work to build a just and inclusive society.

As Cyrus said in December, in a recently-published interview in the Wall Street Journal, “Our democracy is not sustainable if don’t embrace equal opportunity.” 

But to do that we need truly innovative approaches. We must expand our thinking about what the barriers are and how to break through them.  As we welcome a new Administration that has committed to make racial justice and economic empowerment top priorities, and a new Congress that can move this agenda forward, we want to highlight some key innovations in government policy and workplace practices that can have the biggest impact.

1. Have the Security and Exchange Commission require transparency on diversity and inclusion. All large, publicly traded companies should make standard disclosures about hiring, representation, leadership and pay. As Cyrus explained to the Journal:

Merge SEC disclosures—annual reports, 10Ks—with advancing equal opportunity. For example, require companies to disclose race and gender data for their top 200 highest-paid employees. It’s a way to understand where the glass ceiling is. Do it by total compensation so it includes stock options. It’ll tell you who’s in the decision-making pool of the company. 

And as we explained in our 2016 proposal to the SEC, this empowers investors, workers, customers and community stakeholders  to make informed choices about where to spend their money.

2. Make your default hiring practices more inclusive, by ensuring you interview multiple women and people of color.  Cyrus explains why this disrupts default assumptions:

If you have one woman versus two women on a slate, when you go to two women, it’s 79 times more likely that a woman will be selected [than if there was only one woman in the pool]. When you go from one to two people of color, the number goes up like 190 times. If there are multiple diverse candidates, they’re multiple times more likely to be hired. Why is that? When you have isolated, coveted jobs, you need to do something to change the norms because the presumptions and stereotypes are so deeply rooted. 

Congress can lead the way by adopting the Rankin-Chisholm rule for its own hiring (a “Rooney Rule” for the Representatives), and by encouraging members to practice #CampaignEquity when they run for re-election.  

3. Make our nation’s first civil rights law a more effective tool for racial justice, so it can work to close the racial wealth gap, ensure real equal access to credit, capital, employment and economic participation. Amending Section 1981 would enable it to live up to its promise.

4. Understand how building racial justice at work includes ensuring fair pay. As Pam shared in an online presentation last fall:

Make equity a top priority when you make decisions, take actions, design programs and measure results. Gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, or any aspect of your identity should not determine your outcomes in the workplace – including pay.

The Administration can do its part by reinstating and expanding pay data collection and reinvigorating equal pay enforcement – and by ensuring that we do not just talk about the gender pay gap. We must recognize and address pay gaps based on race and ethnicity and the particular impact of both on women of color.

5. Promote an inclusive workplace culture free of harassment, bias and discrimination – starting with the people who do the people’s work in our federal and state governments.  Assessing culture, ensuring inclusive policies and practices, and acting quickly to address disrespectful behavior before it becomes toxic should be standard practice. President Biden should consider an Executive Order directing all federal agencies to adopt effective initiatives to promote equal employment opportunity and inclusive workplaces, and revoking a series of anti-DEI actions from the fall.

At the end of the day, Cyrus’ observation from December of 2020 seems even more true in January of 2021: 

There is a moral case for diversity and inclusion. And there’s a business case: long-term value is tied to diversity and diversity is tied to innovation. But the last few years have told us there is a democracy case, too.


Working IDEAL provides trusted and innovative advice on inclusive workplaces, diverse talent, and fair pay. Contact us to learn more about the services we offer.

Authors: Pam Coukos and Cyrus Mehri

How Your Company Can Take Action to Close the Wage Gap

In order to advance pay equity, it’s important to adopt an “equity first” mindset. Make equity a top priority when you make decisions, take actions, design programs and measure results. Gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, or any aspect of your identity should not determine your outcomes in the workplace – including pay. 

Our co-founder and CEO, Pam Coukos, shares her insights about how to close the wage gap:

Here are three ways to put equity first:

  • Remove barriers: Do your due diligence. Go looking for the places where equity gets out of balance and bias can operate. Do you value new untried talent over the committed and valuable people who have been delivering the work? Do you rely on objective, measurable and unbiased factors to set pay? 
  • Change norms: Justifying or excusing a difference in pay isn’t good enough. Start with the principle that you pay the same for the same kind of work, the same kind of experience, the same level of responsibility. Hold everyone accountable for making fair, consistent and equitable decisions.
  • Embrace transparency: Secrecy can’t protect you in a world where pay transparency is a legal right and a cultural reality for large parts of your workforce. Look at your data and pay practices with the assumption that are or will be public – and if they don’t measure up, take action. Share your progress to build trust in your workplace and in the marketplace.

Prioritizing pay equity is the right thing to do. It’s the law. Also, it can make your pay program better, cheaper and more efficient. It can drive innovation and provide a competitive advantage when hiring, retaining and supporting a truly diverse workforce.

Working IDEAL provides trusted and innovative advice on inclusive workplaces, diverse talent, and fair pay. Contact us to learn more about the services we offer.

The UK Gender Gap Reporting Calls Into Question Those Big Companies With Perfect Scores. The Answer Is More Reporting.

It’s Equal Pay Day, and I’ve decided not to have that conversation again – the one about exactly how many cents women lose on the dollar, and whether if you try really, really hard to narrow it down you can get it to single digits. (At the end of the day, there’s always a gap.)

That’s because I’m worried about whether our legitimate desire to quantify and explain is making it easier to justify and excuse. The law allows employers to pay men more than women when those men are more qualified, better performers or doing more complex or higher skilled work. But I am not convinced that we have the right tools to make those distinctions consistently, fairly and objectively.

So I tend to question pay equity analyses that just focus on identifying and applying differences between employees. An explanation may not be an explanation. And it certainly might not be a justification. Can we be so confident these really are objective, meaningful distinctions in practice?  Can structural gender and race bias and cultural norms affect the inputs and the outputs of the decision making process? Do we have the right data to really answer the question of whether these differences even exist? While some places are better than others, it’s hard to find a situation where every difference is satisfactorily explained and justified.

It’s hard in our imperfect world to get a perfect score.

And yet, the last couple of years have seen major US tech companies triumphantly announce they have virtually no gender and race wage gap. These studies are, to put it mildly, at odds with other estimates of pay gaps in the industry. I find them disturbingly perfect, but without disclosed methodology, who is to say if they are accurate?

Now we can bring at least one more data point to this debate.  The UK has implemented an important new law requiring many companies to disclose aggregate gender pay gaps, so we can begin to see more clearly the kinds of distinctions – and excuses – that may be in play.  And the questions we should be asking.

To take just one example, Microsoft’s 2018 UK report shows a 17% aggregate gender pay gap, with men making over 8% more than women in median hourly pay and more than 11% more comparing median bonuses. At the same time, Microsoft’s report states that when it comes to “equal pay for equal work” women working in the UK earned 99.8 percent of what men earned “at the same job title and level” – comparable to their 2017 U.S. report showing almost perfect pay parity for women and men (and for white employees compared to employees of color).

What does this mean? How can there be both a gap looking at it one way and no gap looking at it the other? It probably means that there are differences between the numbers of men and women at particular job titles and levels, with men more likely to occupy higher paid positions. That’s a useful piece of information! It suggests that Microsoft, like its peers, has more work to do when it comes to gender equity. In particular, the path to addressing the aggregate wage gap probably includes looking at trends and factors around advancement opportunities, hires and exits, or challenging assumptions around technical job paths and cross-functional work. But since we can’t see much beyond these two sets of numbers for the UK workforce, it’s hard to know exactly why they are different.  And we don’t have the comparable US aggregate numbers, meaning we know even less about what the 2017 US report might really mean.

(Of course the aggregate numbers don’t tell the whole story either. And it’s not entirely fair to hold one company to account for a problem that pervades every industry and all sectors of the economy. But aggregate reporting like the UK requires can be helpful. And it’s why I supported the EEOC pay data report that the Trump administration placed on hold.)

Getting to a virtually perfect score on a gender or race pay gap analysis can also mean making some potentially questionable technical adjustments — like excluding any pay differences that didn’t meet a certain statistical test, or not even analyzing any jobs or levels with very small numbers of women or people of color. Or disaggregating the analysis too finely, which can obscure patterns of disparity. Even if those decisions are valid and defensible in a particular case, it’s important to know about them when evaluating the bottom line number.

There are other things that I always want to know when looking at pay equity analysis, some of which are specific to certain industries or types of jobs. In industries like tech, law and finance, whether the study analyzes base pay or also includes bonuses or stock, has a big impact on the size of the pay gap. For hourly and part time work, a gap may be based on differences in hours of work, or overtime, even if there is no difference in  the rate.  Are there controls for performance, tenure or other factors?  If so, how are they measured?

Considering the effect of factors and explanations and constructing a good model based on proper comparisons is important in any pay equity study. But it’s also important to question each assumption and understand why and how a particular explanation or approach changes the result. It’s even more important to report on those choices and why you made them, allowing others to evaluate whether they are legitimate or not.

If the reason there is no statistical pay gap is there weren’t enough women in higher level jobs to study, that fact should be reported and considered as relevant piece of information that could place a 99.8 percent figure in proper context. A study that finds no pay gap for individuals at the same title and level might a very accurate depiction of wages, or it might also just be very, very good at justifying pay differences that do exist.

When I do a pay equity study, I want to learn as much as possible from the data. I want to know where there are issues and barriers, where policy or practice or culture or technology is helping promote more equity and inclusion and where it is holding the workplace and workers back. Identifying legal liability and good risk management are important, but so are productivity, competitiveness and efficiency.

Ultimately, a gender or race pay gap is like a compensation program stress test. It can help identify disconnects between what compensation should be based on and how it is actually working in practice. Even if a pay difference can be “explained” for purposes of defending against a charge of pay discrimination, it might still be problematic. It might still be hurting individual workers and the workplace as a whole.

A pay equity study can embrace some real complexity and still be good PR. Buffer, a tech company which has transparent pay (based on an objective salary calculator to ensure clear and consistent compensation levels for its employees), also released its 2018 pay gap analysis with all the numbers – aggregate gaps, adjusted gaps, differences by team and level, and a description of barriers and challenges to full equity that they are still working on.  More methodology would be helpful, but this is a more useful way to think about the numbers.

So more reporting, of all kinds. More context, more analysis and inquiry. It’s an imperfect world. I don’t buy your perfect score.

The EEOC report may be on hold, but pay data reporting isn’t going away.

Last night the EEOC announced that its new pay data report is on hold and will not be implemented as scheduled in March of 2018.

Working IDEAL supports the EEOC pay report as an important tool to move us forward on closing the wage gap.

Here’s what we already told EEOC about how they could use the data to boost enforcement:

  • Increasing the number of employers that monitor their pay data and practices regularly is essential to closing the pay gap — required reporting will motivate employers to work on improving their data and systems so they can do it better.
    Research shows that measurement and increased accountability are one of the best ways to improve EEO performance, and boost diversity, equity and inclusion. In other words, what gets measured gets done.
  • Requiring companies to regularly analyze and report their gender and race wage gaps focuses management on an issue of increasing importance to stakeholders, regulators and the public.  It creates a mechanism for them to assess and improve their performance over time.
  • Reporting also makes it more likely companies will find problems when they exist and take voluntary measures to fix them. This is good for workers and employers — and avoids potential enforcement actions.
  • Using (and reporting) benchmarks by industry, size and other factors makes it easier for the agency and employers to identify problems by comparing their own data to benchmark values, and helps target enforcement and voluntary compliance resources.

There is a lot more detail about all this in our comment, including our ideas about using benchmarks.  You can read it here: Coukos Working Ideal Comment on EEOC Pay Data Collection

It’s very disappointing that this will not be moving forward now. But employers who take this issue seriously have the opportunity to review their own data and resources, establish their own plans and benchmarks, and engage their workers and stakeholders. And given that some states (and even cities) are showing increasing interest in moving ahead on pay equity, state legislators may start proposing pay data reports of their own. Those with concerns about the EEOC proposal should be thinking hard about meaningful and effective alternatives and options. Pay data reporting is on the agenda now, and it isn’t going away.