The frontier of workplace equity is constantly shifting as organizations grapple with a swirl of emerging and evolving mandates: comply with new pay transparency laws, future-proof against a potential recession, compete in the talent wars, set the right pay ranges, maintain equity in the face of layoffs, meet the standards of value-driven investors, elevate the conversation with boards, and more.
To get it right and meet the needs of all your stakeholders, workplace equity must be considered from a 360° perspective. That’s why Syndio partnered with NYSE to convene the inaugural Workplace Equity Summit from April 20-21 at the historic New York Stock Exchange building. Leaders from over 150 companies gathered to connect with their peers and discuss big goals for the modern workplace.
The energy in the building was electric as an all-star lineup of speakers and panelists — including pay equity pioneers, HR and Total Rewards leaders, board members, investors, journalists, innovators, regulators, and more — took to the stage to share their workplace equity stories and insights. We wish we could have bottled the vibes, but at least we can share a play-by-play of key takeaways from every session below.
Keynote | The Era of Workplace Equity
After a welcome from NYSE President Lynn Martin, we jump started the Workplace Equity Summit with a keynote fireside chat between Syndio CEO Maria Colacurcio and Valerie Jarrett, a powerhouse leader who knows a thing or two about igniting change as CEO of the Barack Obama Foundation and former Senior Advisor to President Obama. Valerie set the stage for a day of conversation around workplace equity from every angle, sharing her wealth of multi-faceted experiences around this crucial business priority.
“Good intentions don’t get the job done”. Workplace equity is solvable, but it requires a strategic plan and intentionality, backed by data. “Culture doesn’t happen just because you wish it so.” By shining a light on the numbers, pay transparency is a crucial enabler of equity, diversity, and inclusion.
“Evidence matters” when getting the ear of senior leadership. Start with the data, and listen to your employees. The change in the paradigm is that workplace equity is no longer a “nice to do” — it’s a business imperative as pressures come from employees, boards, and investors. Thankfully, there are tools today to support organizations in taking a data-driven approach.
Organizations need to embrace pay transparency and commit to closing pay gaps. This is the era of transparency – that’s where social media helps. Our hope is that all Summit attendees walk away with the inspiration to confidently navigate the challenges and opportunities of the pay transparency era and steer their organizations towards a future of work that is equitable, human, and resilient. Progress starts here.
Transparency and Trust: How These Leaders Unlocked the Secret to Winning the Talent War
In Edelman’s 2023 Trust Barometer, companies remained the last institution seen by a majority of Americans as competent and ethical. But that trust is slipping. In the face of economic anxiety and the job insecurity created by waves of layoffs, many workers are experiencing a crisis of confidence with their employer. As a modern showcase of what your organization values and how you reward employees for their contributions, pay transparency has become a new angle for rebuilding trust and engagement with employees.
This panel provided a behind-the-scenes look at how Total Rewards/Compensation and legal leaders at some of the world’s biggest companies use pay transparency as a powerful lever to build trust. Moderated by WorldatWork CEO Scott Cawood, attendees heard practical advice and lessons learned directly from pay transparency champions including Kristen Roby Dimlow from Microsoft, Julie Ann Overcash from Flexport (formerly at Intel), Shelley Webb from PagerDuty, and Kim Wicker from American Airlines.
Transparency is not an all-or-nothing proposition — rather, it is a journey that can be taken in stages. The important thing is to start. “There is a range of transparency from nothing to ‘whoa.’” There are things you can share, even if it’s small — if you’re not ready to share the results, you can at least talk about how you analyzed the data. Some companies start by sharing salary bands, while others begin by providing more detailed information about individual salaries. Whatever the entry point, the panelists stressed that it’s critical to get buy-in from leadership and to communicate clearly and consistently with employees. Do the work ahead of time, ensure you have the right processes in place, and be confident about why it’s valuable. Know what you’re aiming for, because “if you do not know what success looks like, you cannot get there.”
“You don’t have to hide behind pay equity” or whisper about it. “Pay equity and transparency is an opportunity for companies. Embrace it!” Being transparent about your pay equity journey allows you to live your values and stand behind your story. Certification such as Fair Pay Workplace can allow companies to proudly stand up and talk about their pay equity efforts as part of their brand.
Remember, “risks extend beyond legal risks” and it’s okay if transparency is uncomfortable. Social media and pay transparency laws in Europe , the U.S. and across the world have really changed the landscape of pay transparency. With pay out in the open, you need to proactively communicate about your workplace equity journey or people will create their own narrative. Even when it feels uncomfortable because you don’t have a “perfect” story to tell, being authentic about where progress stands goes a long way with people. “You can be nervous and do it anyway!” Employees may have questions about why certain salaries are higher than others or why certain positions are paid more than others. The key is to be prepared to answer these questions and to be transparent about the company’s compensation philosophy and the factors that go into determining pay.
Meet the Press: Leading Journalists Discuss Trends Shaping the Workplace
Many companies are afraid to go public about workplace equity if they don’t have a 100% positive story to tell, so they stick to vague, performative PR spin. But that’s not what will generate impactful coverage or build trust with your people.
With CNBC anchor Jon Fortt leading the discussion, this panel provided an insider media perspective from business reporters and the nation’s top outlets on how they see the workplace and their role in covering its evolution. Emma Hinchliffe from Fortune, Lauren Hirsch from The New York Times, and Vanessa Fuhrmans from the Wall Street Journal shared their perspectives on trends shaping the workplace.
Data is crucial for separating the “spin” from the story when assessing workplace equity pitches. Panelists shared that while anecdotes are good, most stories start with data because that’s how you show whether it’s real or not. “Data is the ‘sausage’ of how we tell our stories,” and “even in narrative pieces you need the data to get it over the finish line.” However, the panelists also emphasized the importance of looking beyond the numbers and understanding the underlying factors that contribute to workplace equity. They stressed that it’s also about the culture and policies that shape a company’s approach to equity.
What trends in workplace equity are old news and what feels fresh? While some issues such as gender pay gaps and lack of diversity in leadership have been long-standing concerns, new issues have emerged, such as the impact of remote work on employee well-being and the need for greater transparency around compensation. The pandemic created unique challenges for workers and employers alike, highlighting the need for greater resilience and flexibility in the workplace. Companies are under massive pressure and often DEI initiatives take the back burner. Hybrid and some elements of remote work are going to stay, so companies will need to relearn how to measure productivity and performance.
Workplace equity headline: “What happened to leaning in?” There have been notable departures of senior women in tech leaving, without a lot of women in the pipeline to fill the gaps.There’s a confluence of trends driving women leaders leaving at the highest levels: finding purpose at work, mismatch between personal values and company values, lack of flexibility. Women are “fed up with all the lip service” at their companies. The Gen Z workforce cohort will be fascinating to watch as their work ethos and their perspective on careers at companies is very unique.
“The north star is talent management.” (This is not the marketing buzz, and it’s not altruism). Companies won’t have the talent they need unless they focus on DE&I. To gain credibility back, companies must focus on the business case around talent management. We can perhaps learn from Europe, as there is a growing recognition there around the importance of opportunity equity and measurement. Companies are collecting a lot of data. If you can’t measure it, you can’t track it — data is key.
Candid Conversation with a Leader in Pay Equity
How did the CEO of Salesforce wind up on 60 Minutes talking about pay equity? Summit attendees got the inside story from the leader who made it happen — Cindy Guerra Robbins. In 2013, Cindy led a study that motivated CEO Marc Benioff to rebalance gender pay across the company, generating acclaim for Salesforce as an equal-pay pioneer, one of the world’s most admired companies, and a widely-recognized “best place to work”. Her fireside chat with interviewer Orlando Ashford, Chief People Officer of Fanatics, highlighted the importance of pay equity and the role of HR leaders in driving change.
You must make workplace equity a priority for your CEO. Cindy emphasized the importance of demonstrating the business case for pay equity by highlighting how it benefits both the company and its employees. She also shared that metrics such as retention rates, employee engagement, and the number of promotions and raises for under-represented groups are critical in measuring progress and success. She created and worked across a cross-functional team — making everyone part of the process. First, it was important to understand the compensation philosophy, what Syndio calls ‘pay explainability.’ This is not just an HR movement; ultimately it’s the CEO’s imperative — that’s when you see a shift. If it’s a CEO’s priority, it becomes everyone’s priority.
CHROs can elevate their own seat at the executive table by tying their efforts to top-line business metrics. HR leaders have unique insights into the organization and can bring valuable perspectives to strategic discussions. Orlando emphasized that HR leaders must speak the language of business and demonstrate how people initiatives benefit the bottom line. “Do not think of yourself as an HR executive. Think of yourself as a business executive.”
“Pay touches every part of the people journey” — so it matters more than ever in this volatile environment. You want people to stay, develop their skills, and thrive. Pay is an important lever to help do that, because we will emerge from this economy and we will need our people. The more you can be transparent on how employees are measured on their performance, the more you build trust within the company culture.
Workplace Equity Inside the Boardroom
A new topic is catching the attention of boards of directors: workplace equity. CHROs are faced with the daunting task of translating the intricacies of workplace equity to board members who may not be well-versed with the terminology — and who don’t want to get tangled in the weeds.
Our panel of distinguished and highly experienced board members gave an insider’s perspective into what boards are thinking about, what they want to hear, and how they want to hear it. Moderated by Marsha Ershaghi Hames, Partner, Tapestry Networks, the panel consisted of Toni Bush, President, JADD Capital LLC; Mark Mulhern, Board of Directors, Intercontinental Exchange, and Chair of ICE’s Compensation Committee; and Alicia Syrett, Chairwoman, Digimarc, and founder, Madam Chair.
Present clear, actionable, and jargon-free workplace equity metrics and data points to your board. Translating workplace equity data into language that resonates with board members is crucial. Board members want to see data that shows progress and highlights areas for improvement. Panelists stressed the value of identifying the most relevant metrics for the organization and presenting them in a way that is easy to understand — avoid using technical jargon and focus on the bottom-line impact of workplace equity initiatives. Boards are interested in how diversity and inclusion efforts benefit the organization in terms of employee engagement, retention, and overall business performance.
Board diversity matters. Developing leadership that looks like your workforce is critical. The panelists emphasized that having a diverse board not only brings different perspectives to the table, but also sends a message to employees and stakeholders that the company is committed to promoting diversity and equity. “There is 100% a correlation between the makeup of the board and how DEI issues are prioritized in an organization”. And when boards take a personal interest in and responsibility for mentoring underrepresented leaders in organizations, real change happens.
Board members can play a vital role in actively promoting workplace equity and holding management accountable for progress. Boards have a responsibility to ensure their management is taking concrete steps to promote diversity and inclusion and that progress is truly being made. Boards want to see workforce stats (e.g. age, gender, ethnicity, disability, etc.) and numbers around the people you are recruiting and their attrition: who are you losing? What’s your pay equity data and how do you offer opportunities to our employees? Boards also want to see that you’re looking at tech solutions to help close those gaps.
The Future of Equity Tech
Last year, Gartner Research noted the formation of a “nascent ‘techequity’ market” with workplace equity solutions in the foreground. But where is the market going next and what other aspects of HR are ripe for digital transformation?
Summit attendees got the chance to put their finger on the pulse of the equity tech landscape with this panel of value-driven investors, venture capitalists, and innovators. Moderated by Ryan Nece, Managing Partner at Next Play Capital, the panel included Maury Bradsher, Founder and CEO, District Equity; Regina Green, Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Head of Launch with GS Americas; Sean Mendy, Partner, Concrete Rose Capital; and, Heather Shen, Co-Founder, Praxis Labs.
Even in a cooling tech environment, equity tech still is hot. Why? There is a momentum driving companies to want to solve these issues. For example, mandates from the Department of Labor and the EU Equal Pay and Transparency Directive are helping drive the push towards more inclusive workplaces.
Be strategic about your equity tech investments. When looking to invest in equity tech, solutions must be something that solves a need-to-have, not just a nice-to-have. To demonstrate ROI, look to see if there is actual change shown in the data. Do we see the correlation in the outcomes you want?
The ROI of Workplace Equity: A First-Hand Look
Pay equity and transparency are the right thing to do, but they’re not always an easy sell to bottom-line-driven, risk-averse leadership teams and boards. To make a compelling case for investing in pay equity, compensation and HR leaders must be able to clearly demonstrate the tangible and intangible value of their efforts.
In a panel moderated by Syndio Chief Revenue Officer Katie Bardaro, attendees heard first-hand from Total Rewards leaders at global brands, including Ellen Exum, VP of Executive and Corporate Total Rewards, Walmart; Courtney McMillian, VP of Total Rewards, Indeed; and, and Hem Patel, VP of Total Rewards, Moderna. Overall, the message was clear: the time to take action is now to prioritize pay equity, fairness, belonging and all aspects of workplace equity. This will allow you to not only improve outcomes for your employees but also reap the business benefits that come with a more equitable workplace.
Education is critical. To gain employee trust, they must understand what you are sharing. Perceived fairness in the salary cycle depends greatly on education and communication with your employees. Customize the education and experience for different profiles of employees internally, and meet people where they are. You can either build trust or lose trust depending on how you answer questions from employees about pay. By proactively communicating about pay and addressing any employee concerns, you prevent potential conflicts down the line. –
The first step of the cultural component with regard to pay equity? Get the data right. Be thoughtful about the change management and communication strategy across different cultures. It’s really important to create equity and accessibility within the communications themselves and consider the experience of those who are receiving the information. “We spent a ton of time [on our pay equity journey] thinking about culture.”
It’s not about convincing our board to do this, but rather convincing them that what you’re doing is “right”. No one wants to sit around and talk about standard deviations and scatter plots. Tell your board why this work matters and focus on the impact it’s having. Talk about the downstream: It’s not about just paying fairly, but also whether you are giving equitable opportunities.
Fair pay and diversity are key drivers of innovation. Take a step back and look at performance and promotions as well. Think about equity and fairness at every moment of the employee lifecycle — from hiring, development, and performance to retention. When you create an equitable workplace, people can put their anxieties about unfairness out of their mind and focus on the work they are best at doing.
Pay equity can be a differentiator in competitive talent markets. By promoting your commitment to equity and showcasing results achieved, you can attract and retain top talent who share your values and create a sense of “belonging”.
What Comes Next: An Insider’s Look Into ESG and the Regulatory Landscape
Companies face enormous pressure to prove they value their people. Research from Syndio and NYSE shows that the actions your organization takes around pay equity can directly impact investor relations. A JUST Capital survey reveals that the American public — across demographics and political affiliation — want companies to prioritize workers and wages above all.
To help CHROs and Total Rewards leaders get ahead of this “stakeholder soup” of new salary transparency laws, future SEC disclosures, and the deepening interest in the ‘S’ in ESG from investors, attendees got a look behind the scenes with a panel moderated by Syndio Founder and Chief Data Scientist Zev Eigen, which included EEOC Commissioner Keith Sonderling; NYSE’s Head of ESG advisory services, Brian Matt; and, Tolu Lawrence, Managing Director of Programs and Partnerships at JUST Capital (the organization behind America’s Most JUST Companies rankings).
“We cannot let the issue of pay equity slip anymore.” This is about three things: Pay transparency, pay data collection, and pay equity. What are the underlying policies that are causing the pay gap? What is the language in job postings that may cause women or other groups not to apply? It’s important we look at equity holistically.
Identify quantifiable metrics to drive improvement around the ‘S’ in ESG. It’s time to clearly define the ‘S’ in ESG. Human capital metrics can include: equitable pay along gender, race, intersections, and other aspects of employee identity, equitable advancement, supporting employees with their family issues, parental leave parity, demographic representation, and many other data points.
From an investor perspective, workplace equity is creating a lens for how companies are viewed and valued by institutional investors and the public. This goes beyond recent momentum for factors such as remuneration, gender, and race equity at the board level, to equity at the human capital level. Investors will now benefit from having access to a credible source of pay and opportunity equity data and can include these factors in their valuation of companies.
CHROs and Total Rewards leaders have a role in investor relations strategies. “Do what you can now to prepare: get your house in order.” Workplace equity is about long-term value, so take that first step forward. More and more investors are looking to see the data first. CHROs need to start getting involved in those conversations with the investors, especially during equal pay proxy votes — this is a great opportunity for to elevator your seat at the table land add value. So, if you want to stay ahead of the curve, educate yourself and your leaders on what is material to your investors as they evaluate you.
Our Challenge to You
“We want you to take action, we want you to solve. Inspiration does not get it done.” Syndio CEO Maria Colacurcio shared this challenge during her closing remarks with Syndio Chief Strategy and Legal Officer Rob Porcarelli. They reminded us that we cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and admire the problem, when the solutions and the tools are in the room.
The conversations and takeaways from the 2023 Workplace Equity Summit will stay with us for a long time. It was an incredible opportunity to hear from industry leaders, experts, and change-makers. The real “future of work” will be equitable!
The information provided herein does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. All information, content, and materials are provided for general informational purposes only. The links to third-party or government websites are offered for the convenience of the reader; Syndio is not responsible for the contents on linked pages.