Denise Liebetrau doesn’t believe there is a determined effort to pay women or people of different colors less than their male colleagues.

So how does the CEO of Prosper Consulting account for the gender-pay gap where women make roughly 80 percent of what men earn in the workplace?

“I do believe that we have unconscious biases as individuals,”  she said during a recent podcast with Employee Cycle CEO and co-founder Bruce Marable, “and in that space, we sometimes make decisions that for or against certain groups without our knowing.”

Leibetrau said the gender-pay gap often starts at the beginning of the employment relationship and only gets worse from there.

“Are you hiring diversely? How are you assessing someone’s performance or potential? Who are you promoting? Are you promoting both genders at the same rate?”

Liebetrau recommended HR leaders begin by taking a look at the following areas to ensure their practices aren’t creating gender-pay gaps: hiring, pay, performance, assessment of potential and promotions.

“Then ask if there is any part of those processes where there could be unconscious bias in there, and then you start changing your processes.”

Another way to close a gender-pay gap at your organization, she said, is for HR leaders to do annual pay reviews.

“Look at different factors like race, age and gender to see if pay  differences are caused by any of those factors instead of those bona fide reasons like different levels in performance, education and experience, which are what you should be making pay decisions based on.”

Another concrete step organizations can undertake is to stop asking candidates for their salary requirements. Instead of asking a question, she said, offer a pay range for the position: “The salary range is X to Y.  Are you comfortable with that?”

And if you don’t have ranges associated with your organization’s jobs, “then get a compensation expert in there and have them assign grades and ranges,” she said.

But the problem of pay inequity extends beyond the numbers printed on a paycheck, she said. It extends all the way up the management ladder.

“If, as an organization, you don’t have enough women in senior management positions, then go back and read those job descriptions. Are you expecting 15 years of experience? And if you are, do you really need 15 years of experience for that role or will 10 years be perfectly fine?

“If you’re in HR, really push back on the job descriptions and ask ‘Do you really need that?’ And then you can widen the candidate pool,” she said, which will inevitably lead to more women in positions of power.

‘A Penalty’ for Caregiving

It’s a known truth that women are often in a caregiver role, whether it’s taking care of kids or elderly family members, which can lead to serious repercussions at work, Liebetrau said.

“In the workplace, because we say yes to doing that sort of work — and it is work — we are deemed as not being as committed to our jobs and we pay a penalty and a price for that. 

“Until we as a society really value caregiving as a role and as something that is good,” she said, “this is going to be tough to solve because [caregiving] is also work and expecting women to do that on top of everything else is difficult.”

Liebetrau said there are some companies that are realizing that if they can provide flexibility in terms of scheduling, it will allow “both men and women who want to step into a caregiver role the opportunity to do that and juggle their commitments at work too.”

Companies also have to get better at offering on-ramps for workers who have taken time off to act as caregivers, she said.

“As companies, we need to pay attention and ask more questions about the time people take off and don’t just assume they didn’t gain any experience or useful skills that could be used in the workplace.”

Finding the Gender-Pay Gaps

When it comes to conducting a gender-pay audit, Liebetrau said, HR leaders at companies with less than 200 employees can likely use Excel and pivot tables to find where the pay gaps are most glaring.

But if you have more than 200 employees, she added, “it then becomes more of a project to find a law firm that specializes in statistical acumen and can run that on your pay set so that you actually have a statistical analysis.”

Such reviews often turn up unexpected results, she said, adding that she’s seen gender-equity reviews that found men being improperly paid less than female colleagues.

“It’s so important to manage your own assumptions and look at the data objectively,” she said.

While a gender-pay gap audit will give HR leaders the clues “to the things you need to do,” she said the most powerful thing you can do to create true pay equity is to work on creating an organizational culture of trust. 

“It’s a slow process of building a healthy corporate culture where you can have open, honest discussions about all of this.”

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