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Closing the Gender Pay Gap

Keith and Maura are work colleagues in similar roles. Keith negotiated confidently for his salary, citing his prior earnings as a starting point. Because Maura had a 1-year career break on her resume, the company offered her 8% less than it originally offered Keith. Afraid that her offer might be rescinded if she pushed too hard, Maura was not as assertive as Keith and agreed to the lower salary. 

This is one example of the gender pay gap — a persistent and pervasive problem that affects women of all backgrounds, ages, and levels of education. On average, women workers make 83 cents for every dollar a man makes. But as they rise in the ranks, the pay gap increases. Female managers and supervisors earn 83 cents, directors 82 cents, and executives make 72 cents on the dollar. Women may enter the workplace at a lower wage, and then work disruptions like maternity and caregiving leave play a role. 

The pay gap is not only unjust — it’s also bad for the economy, society, and a company’s performance. It reduces women’s income, wealth, and economic security, which in turn affects their health and well-being. It also limits women’s opportunities and potential, hampering their contribution to a company’s innovation and productivity. It’s important to note that diverse teams have been proven to make better decisions and to boost the bottom line — so it’s in an employer’s best interest to take action.

According to the World Economic Forum, it will take 169 years to close the global gender pay gap at the current rate of progress. But fortunately there are concrete steps corporate leaders can take now to avoid this disparity while also lowering the company’s legal risk. Let’s take a look.

Set new employees’ starting pay without regard to their prior pay. One of the factors that contributes to the gender pay gap is the history of discrimination and undervaluation of women’s work in the labor market. Women often start their careers with lower salaries than men, and this gap widens over time as they face fewer raises, bonuses, and promotions. To break this cycle, base your new hires’ pay on the value of the job, the skills and qualifications required, and the market rate, rather than on their previous or expected salary. And avoid asking candidates about their salary history or expectations, since this can lead to anchoring bias and perpetuate the problem.

Adjust your existing employees’ pay to match new employees’ pay for the same job. Setting fair and transparent pay for new employees is just part of the equation. You also need to address any existing inequities among your current staff. Regularly review and update your compensation practices to ensure all employees are paid equitably for the same or comparable work, and that there are no unjustified or discriminatory gaps based on gender or other factors. Communicate openly with your employees about how their pay is determined and how they can advance in their careers.

Establish an objective compensation policy. Lack of clear and consistent criteria for setting and adjusting pay can result in arbitrary and subjective decisions that favor some employees over others. So don’t leave it to the hiring manager’s discretion. Develop and implement a policy that defines the roles, responsibilities, and expectations for each job, the methods and sources for determining the level and pay range, and the procedures and criteria for granting raises, bonuses, and incentives. Train and monitor your hiring managers to ensure that they follow the policy and apply it fairly and consistently to all employees.

Reject affinity bias. Affinity bias is the common tendency to like, trust, and favor people who are similar to ourselves. It creates a homogenous culture in the workplace, where men are more likely to hire, mentor, and promote other men, and women are more likely to face barriers, challenges, and isolation. To overcome this, foster a diverse and inclusive culture in your organization, where people of all genders and backgrounds are valued, respected, and supported. Encourage and facilitate cross-gender collaboration, networking, and mentoring, and ensure that women have equal access to opportunities.

Make sure assignments and promotions are offered equitably. The type and quality of work assigned also contributes to the gender pay gap. Women often face a double bind: they are either assigned less challenging and visible tasks that limit their exposure and advancement, or they are assigned more demanding and stressful tasks that increase their workload and burnout. They are also less likely to receive credit and recognition for their contributions, and more likely to face backlash and criticism for their achievements. So make sure your employees are assigned and evaluated based on their skills, performance, and potential, rather than their gender or other demographics. Provide constructive feedback and recognition, and reward them for their results and impact.

Offer the same parental leave and caregiving benefits to all employees. Unequal distribution of unpaid work and care responsibilities between men and women is another contributing factor. Women often bear the primary or sole responsibility for taking care of children, elderly, or sick relatives, which affects their availability and flexibility at work. They also face more workplace bias for juggling their work and family roles, and penalties for taking time off or reducing their hours. To address this, provide equal and adequate parental leave and caregiving benefits to all your employees, regardless of their gender or marital status. Also create a supportive and flexible work environment, so your employees can meet both their personal and professional needs. Just as importantly, encourage and enable both women and men to share the work and care responsibilities, and to take full advantage of the benefits and flexibility available to them.

Conduct an annual pay equity audit and analysis. One of the most important steps toward closing the gender pay gap in your organization is to measure and monitor it regularly. Regularly collect and compare employee salary data and identify and explain any disparities based on gender or other factors. Also measure the impact and effectiveness of your policies and practices on pay equity, and address any weaknesses. Then communicate your results and the actions you have taken or will take to close the gaps.

Make your pay scale public. Another way to promote pay equity in your organization is to make your pay scale public and transparent. This means that you disclose and share salaries and pay-setting policies with your internal and external stakeholders. This can help you increase the trust and confidence of your employees, customers, investors, and partners, and demonstrate your commitment to pay equity. It can also help you attract and retain more diverse and talented employees, and enhance your reputation and competitiveness in the market.

Allow employees to talk about their wages. A common barrier to pay equity is the lack of information and awareness among employees about their own and others’ pay. Many employees do not know how much they are paid compared to their peers or counterparts, or whether they are paid fairly and equally for their work. Many employers also discourage or prohibit employees from discussing or disclosing their wages, either explicitly or implicitly, which creates a culture of secrecy and silence around pay. To address this, allow and encourage your employees to talk about their wages, and to seek and share information and feedback on their pay. You should also educate your employees about their rights and responsibilities regarding pay equity, and the resources and support systems available to them.

Encourage ERGs and other affinity groups to help determine pay policy. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and other affinity groups are voluntary and employee-led organizations that bring together workers who share a common identity, such as gender, race, disability, or LGBTQ+. These groups can play a vital role in advancing pay equity by providing a platform and voice for your employees to express their needs, concerns, and suggestions regarding pay and other issues. They can help you design and implement your pay policies and practices by providing input, feedback, and recommendations based on their perspectives and experiences. And they can help you communicate and engage with their members around these issues.

Realize that pay equity is not only about gender parity. Finally, recognize and acknowledge that pay equity is not only about gender parity, but also about intersectionality and inclusion. For some people, different forms of discrimination, such as sexism, racism, ableism, and homophobia, can overlap and interact to create unique and compounded disadvantages, so it’s important to make sure that all people are valued, respected, and supported in the workplace, regardless of their identity, background, or circumstance. To achieve pay equity, do address the gender pay gap —  but also the racial pay gap, the disability pay gap, the LGBTQ+ pay gap, and any others that affect your employees. Handle all of it together, ensuring that your pay policies and practices are inclusive and responsive to your employees’ diverse and specific needs.

Gratitude to Craig Leen, K&L Gates Partner, Former OFCCP Director, Law Professor of Government, and gender equity expert for his contribution to this article.
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Coaches, Mentors and Champions

Who’s got this work-thing wrapped up and so completely under control that you never need to ask anyone for suggestions or advice? 


Us either. 

In our journeys towards personal and professional success, we can all benefit from a support system. You’ve probably heard that coaches, mentors and champions (also known as sponsors) can provide guidance and encouragement. But how do you know what you need at any given time? Let’s take a look at each one, the differences between them, and why all three are important for working women, in particular.

The Coach

Have you ever thought it might be nice to have a strategic partner by your side to help you identify and tackle your personal and professional goals? Enter the coach! Think of them as your reliable ally, offering support, guidance, and feedback to help you navigate challenges, make informed decisions, and achieve your desired outcomes. They’re not just advisors; they’re the professionals who show you the ropes in the most efficient and polished manner, assisting you in honing your talents. A coach’s expertise makes you better equipped to handle workplace challenges and reach your true potential. Coaching is typically a paid service, an investment in yourself that can yield significant returns.

Here are some benefits:

Skill enhancement. Coaches provide specific feedback to build skills and address weaknesses.

Goal setting. They help in setting and achieving realistic, measurable goals.

Accountability. Coaches keep you accountable for your actions, which helps you work toward your goals with discipline.

There are many types of coaches, and here are a few that provide support at the crossroads of work and life:

  • Career coaches help you grow in your current role, guide career decisions, and advise on work-life integration.
  • Entrepreneurship coaches support you in building a business. 
  • Executive / leadership coaches enhance your leadership skills at work.
  • Life coaches focus on personal growth and relationships, self-worth and self-confidence, and taking action towards living a life with purpose.

Consider this scenario: you’ve been laid off from your most recent position, you’re feeling a bit uncertain and not-so-confident about your career prospects, and think you might like to pursue a different type of role or industry. That’s where a career coach comes in. They’ll team up with you to assess your skills and interests, focus your sights on the right role and type of company, boost your confidence, sharpen your interviewing skills, and craft a strategic plan for attacking your job search. From updating your resume to refining your networking skills, they’ve got you covered. Think of them as your career makeover partner, guiding you through a seamless transition. 

Or let’s say you’ve been in the same company for a few years and are hoping for a promotion into a leadership role. An executive coach could work with you to evaluate and hone your executive presence, identify opportunities both inside and outside of your workplace where you can demonstrate your authority, and help you level up your leadership game.

So how do you find the right person to work with? Start by researching coaches in your industry on platforms like LinkedIn, or explore online coaching platforms like BetterUp and WRK/360. You can also ask around at industry events, conferences, or workshops where coaches often hang out.

Once you identify someone you’d like to consider working with, schedule a consultation — it’s like grabbing a coffee to see if you click. Discuss your goals, their approach, and see if it feels like a good fit. Ask for client testimonials or case studies to check their track record. Think of it as doing your due diligence. And if you want more info, you can check out this article for extra insights on how and when to choose a coach. 

The Mentor

Wouldn’t it be great to have a career guide who’s been there? That’s the essence of a mentor — someone with a treasure trove of career experience, both successes and setbacks, ready to share their lessons learned. Imagine reaching out to this wise person for valuable advice, constructive feedback, organizational know-how, inspiration and encouragement. 

Here’s the key. For this mentor-mentee relationship to flourish, there has to be openness and honesty on both sides. It’s like having a heart-to-heart with a trusted friend who genuinely cares about your success. The cool part? Most mentors do this out of the goodness of their hearts and see it as an opportunity to give back.

Key benefits include:

Wisdom transfer. Mentors share valuable insights and lessons learned from their own career journeys.

Networking. They can introduce you to valuable connections within their networks.

Longevity. Mentorship often develops into a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship.

Mentorship can take various forms, ranging from formal arrangements within organizations to informal relationships developed through networking or personal connections. Mentors may be found in diverse settings, including the workplace, educational institutions, community organizations, or social circles.

Let’s say you’re a working mom who’s constantly juggling, with a goal of leveling up to a leadership role without dropping any balls. Cue the potential mentor — another working mom, a seasoned player in the senior management game.

This mentor is your go-to guru. At regularly scheduled meetups (which can be in person or virtual), you’ll have the opportunity to ask your questions. And she’s all about spilling the secrets on networking, building a supportive team, and mastering the corporate maze. 

At the same time, mentorship is a 2-way relationship. Show your mentor you have their back by demonstrating interest in their lives and sharing information, news or insights that will help them in their own roles. 

Finding the perfect mentor is like searching for your career confidante. Sometimes a mentorship relationship develops naturally. But if you need to actively seek one, start off by spotting the stars in your organization or industry whose career stories vibe with your goals. Look for those mentors who not only possess qualities you admire but also have the time to invest in your mentorship journey.

If you’re aiming for an in-house mentor, hit up internal networking events, mentorship programs, or affinity groups. And if you’re looking for someone outside your current company, platforms like LinkedIn, industry events, and your alumni network can be treasure troves for finding potential mentors. There are also established organizations that can match you with a mentor — you can find them at!

Once you’ve found your desired mentor match, graciously ask them for a 30-minute coffee or video chat, taking care to clearly and succinctly explain why you’re seeking their wisdom and how your needs and interests align with their expertise. In this first meeting, ask how they achieved [whatever it is you’d like to emulate] and listen. If the vibes are good during this first meeting, you can ask for another… and eventually suggest making it a regular gig, like a catch-up every month. 

For more details, dive into this article for an extra dose of mentorship insight. 

The Champion

Ever heard of champions or sponsors? They’re like your personal hype squad, actively cheering for your success both in public and behind the scenes. These amazing folks use their influence to strategically place seasoned professionals — like you — in the perfect spot at just the right time.

Why? Because they’ve seen you in action, tackling situations like a pro, and knocking goals out of the park with the perfect approach and timing. They have you on their radars and when the time’s right, they’re ready to sing your praises as the perfect candidate for that coveted project, role, or promotion. Isn’t it awesome to have someone out there actively rooting for your success? We think so too! 

Here’s why having a champion is crucial:

Visibility. Champions promote your achievements, ensuring you get the recognition you deserve.

Opportunity Matching. Because they’re at the table where new initiatives are discussed, they tell you about related opportunities for advancement and how to go get ’em.

Advocacy. They actively recommend you for plum projects or roles.

While coaches focus on goal setting and skill development, and mentors provide guidance based on personal experiences, champions actively advocate for an individual’s success. Champions are particularly known for their public support and proactive efforts in promoting the interests and achievements of the person they champion. 

Let’s say you’re a determined software engineer with your eyes set on a leadership role. Sarah, a respected senior manager, has noticed your great work in the past. You decide to reach out, sharing your career goals. Sarah’s not just impressed; she becomes your advocate. Because she’s in the room where the decisions are made, she recommends you for key projects and even offers valuable pointers along the way. Thanks to Sarah’s sponsorship, you land that coveted leadership position.

Finding your real-life champion can be an organic process, where your good work catches the eye of someone influential in your organization. Or it can take some intentionality. 

If you’re in the latter camp, start out by keeping an eye out for leaders who recognize potential and have a history of supporting others. Look for the well-connected and respected ones within your organization — ideally those with the influence to make things happen. They’re the ones you want in your corner.

Now, the key. Do good work and make it visible to them. Take on impactful projects and ensure your achievements are on their radar.

Engage with these potential sponsors. Seek their advice on challenges and get feedback on your work. It’s about building a connection and letting them see your potential.

You’re the architect of finding and securing the right champions. Once you’ve got them, keep them in the loop. Provide all the info they need to champion you in meetings and negotiations that take place behind closed doors.

For more insights, check out this article.

Why Women Should Actively Seek Career Support

We all know that women are ambitious and just as dedicated to their careers as men are. But we also know that there are hurdles that women in particular need to jump over in order to achieve the same upward mobility. McKinsey’s recent Women in the Workplace report points out the typical broken ladder and glass ceiling moments — women stuck in junior roles, feeling overqualified, and notably underrepresented at the C-suite level, where only one in four leaders are women, and women of color represent just one in 16.

Focusing on leadership readiness with a coach, making good use of a mentor’s tangible advice and contacts, and having the internal support of a respected sponsor can help you ascend through the typical trouble spots. And as you do so, consider being that mentor or champion for a woman who’s your junior.

Because here’s the coolest part. This is not just about individual growth. By having these awesome figures in your corner — and by being that awesome figure for an up-and-comer — you’re personally contributing toward building a workplace that mirrors diversity, counters historical gender imbalances… and experiences greater profitability as a result.


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