Insights on closing the pay gap


It’s no secret wage inequity still is a problem for women in the workforce. A local human resources expert recently shared strategies women can use to advocate for fair pay.

Beth Kelly, founder and president of Grand Rapids-based human resources management firm HR Collaborative, was the speaker at the June 7 Women in Finance lunch hosted by the Association for Corporate Growth Western Michigan.

Her talk was titled “How to Do What You Love and Get Paid What You’re Worth.”

Kelly shared data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) that shows the gender earnings ratio, or women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s, for full-time, year-round workers was 79.6 percent in 2015, up from 60.2 percent in 1980.

In the HR field, Kelly said she has seen wage parity at the management level increase over time.

“A supervisor at one company is going to get paid about the same as another supervisor regardless of gender,” she said. “Those equities are starting to take place more and more.”

But she said one “insidious” factor contributing to the pay gap elsewhere is the imbalanced classification of positions in fields such as teaching, business and medicine, which shows up in 2018 data from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor.

In the education field, elementary school teachers — who are predominantly female — are paid an average of $57,160, whereas high school teachers — more of whom are male — get paid on average $59,170, a difference of 3.5 percent.

In business, where men tend to dominate in accounting and finance and women tend to work more often in marketing, the pay gap widens. The average compensation of a marketing professional is $63,230, and the average pay of someone in accounting is $69,350, a difference of 9.2 percent.

“Now, you would think that as you become more professionally capable and have higher degrees, that that gap would close a little bit,” she said.

Instead, in an advanced occupation such as medicine, the difference in pay between a female-dominated position such as a pediatrician and a male-dominated role such as a sports medicine physician is about 20 percent, from $172,650 for the former to $208,000 for the latter.

The IWPR predicts wage parity for white women will happen by 2059, but not until 2124 and 2233 for black and Hispanic women, respectively.

In light of all this, Kelly said it is important for women to learn how to advocate for themselves, not just for their own sake, but to help create change for generations of women to come.

She said former Olympic soccer player Abby Wambach took the opportunity to underscore that during her 2018 commencement remarks at Barnard College.

While Wambach was accepting an ESPY award alongside former NBA star Kobe Bryant and NFL player Peyton Manning, she realized they were walking off the podium into very different futures. Her net worth was $4 million, compared to Manning’s $200 million and Bryant’s $350 million.

“I felt so grateful … to be one of the only women to have a seat at the table,” she said. “I was so grateful to receive any respect at all for myself that I often missed opportunities to demand equality for all of us.”

Kelly said there are five steps women can take to get paid what they are worth — thereby raising the water level for the future.

Decide what is important to you. It could include factors such as making money, being valued and treated fairly within an organization, work-life balance, professional development and travel.

Do your research. Use Payscale, Glassdoor, LinkedIn and O*NET to find out what skills you have that translate into particular positions, what the median wages for those positions are by state and how many job postings are in that industry to get a sense of how competitive the market is.

Show your stuff. Kelly said women often are held back by their unwillingness to tout their skills, expecting others to “spontaneously notice” their achievements.

“Men have more of a tendency to take credit for themselves, even when someone else has done a lot of the work,” she said. “Women have a tendency to minimize their roles and give credit out to others.”

Kelly said it’s practical to keep track of achievements over time so when it comes time to negotiate, you have hard evidence.

Present your case. Learn to speak in the language of business.

“This will be the hardest step,” she said. “We’re thinking about supporting each other. It’s really hard to talk about yourself.”

She said thinking about your daughters is one way to cure that.

“This is an example of where a rising tide lifts all boats. If we elevate these compensation levels of professionals at the mid-level, we will naturally elevate the compensation levels throughout the entire organization.”

Kelly said those who work in positions that are more tied to the productivity of an organization rather than generating revenue can present to their boss how they have reduced costs and overhead, increased efficiency, generated ideas, etc.

“That’s where your value lies,” she said.

Move on. If you asked for a raise and fail to get it, or failing to get that, you ask for ancillary benefits like profit-sharing, bonuses, flex time, extra vacation days or “culture perks,” and the answer is “No,” you have to decide whether to stay or go.

“If you don’t feel you’re being valued, it may be time to move on,” Kelly said.

One of the reasons these conversations can be difficult is because women have not had access to training, Kelly said.

“Women haven’t had the life experiences and the mentorship that naturally come when your dad is a business guy or when your dad’s best friend is the head of a law firm and is going to give you a chance,” she said. “We haven’t had a lot of role models and practice honing those skills that help you advance in business.”

In order to move forward, Kelly said women must be “laser-focused” on the activities that will “help them move forward” in their careers.

She added she is optimistic for the future.

“We are truly in a period of transformation where a lot of 20-somethings coming into the workforce say their experience is very different (from mine),” Kelly said. “We are in a good state of evolution. I think the next phase will be so much better balanced.”

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