As the founder and Chief Science Officer of Syndio Solutions, world leader in HR tech solutions solving the gender pay gap, it is fascinating to watch Equal Pay Day come and go this year under a very heavy and different atmosphere than in years past. The Hill posted an article by Chirlane McCray (First Lady of New York City, perhaps the most hardest hit place in the world right now by the pandemic) and Jacqueline Ebanks entitled, “Equal Pay Day More Important than Ever Amid Covid-19.” And, the National Women’s Law Center posted several great pieces on their site and social media calling companies to action, supporting augmented pay transparency, and reminding the public that many on the front lines of this pandemic are historically underpaid women. These authors and organizations are right—pay equity is something we need to pay more attention to during these troubled times, not less. Here’s why:
As the COVID19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc in all possible ways, it is hard to remember the things that mattered to us so much even a few weeks ago. And many of us lucky to still be employed and able to do our jobs from home have felt isolated, frustrated or challenged, as some of us struggle with additional work because kids are home with us, and just because nothing feels normal now.
From talking with some of our customers recently, who are passionate about closing the gender pay gap, and achieving lasting, meaningful pay equity in their organizations, a few things are clear as to why pay equity is more critical now than ever:
1. Employers Need to Build Trust Now More than Ever
First, these are uncertain times to say the least. Even if your company is not laying people off, the news is full of stories about organizations laying off hundreds of people. Employees are in their homes, isolated and wondering what is going to happen to their jobs. Retaining your top talent starts with trust, which is most readily won or lost in times of uncertainty. Aside from the fact that organizational changes require dynamically updating software like Syndio’s PayEQ in times like these, the best way to foster trust is by treating people fairly and equitably. Lip service on these things without real action will yield the opposite of the intended outcome—more distrust. However, paying attention to pay equity, and transparently leaning into this is key to fostering trust that will yield benefits now and way beyond the current crisis.
2. Reduce the Coming Legal Risk
Based on what happened during and after the most recent economic crisis beginning in 2008, it is likely that we will see a similar rise, or even a significantly greater rise in employment law class actions and representative actions soon. More employment terminations coupled with fewer available alternative job opportunities means that more unemployed people could be willing and available to become plaintiffs in a lawsuit against their (now) former employer. Given the recent news that 6.6 million people filed unemployment claims over the last two weeks, this effect could be exponentially greater than during and after the 2008 financial crisis. While law firms may be fine with this scenario, because it means more costly defense work, employers are wise to adopt prophylactic measures that reduce exposure to risk now, before it is too late. The old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is directly applicable here.
3. We are All in This Together
There is a big difference between saying something and doing something. Asking more of employees in turbulent economic times goes a lot further when that big request is accompanied by actions. As research suggests, paying people equitably internally is significantly more likely to influence employees’ motivation as compared to market pay. And, frankly, the value of paying market rates right now is at an all time low. Few people are paying attention to that lever, and even if they are, most employees prefer to be sure that organizations are treating them fairly and equitably internally. If we are all in this together, pay equity is the best way to demonstrate that because it shows that the organization truly values employees’ contributions consistently and fairly.