The Gender Pay Gap exists. If you think your individual company is immune, think again. Unless you have actively reviewed your pay scale you may be relying on bad data from unconscious bias, salary history (which can no longer be considered in some locations) or other irrelevant and problematic factors. The best leaders and the most successful companies acknowledge unfair systems and aim to proactively research and address pay inequality within their organization.
In case you need more motivation to explore a potential pay gap at your company, Massachusetts now requires companies to pay employees equally for comparable work and the first suit has just been filed.
In 2016 Massachusetts passed the Equal Pay Act. The state gave employers two years to address inequities before holding anyone legally responsible. The law went into effect on July 1, 2018 and one day later Elizabeth Rowe, a female flutist, sued the Boston Symphony Orchestra for violating the law.
Ms. Rowe claims her compensation is only about 75% of her closest comparable colleague, the orchestra’s principal oboist, who is male.
Like almost all professions, orchestras have grappled with gender inequality for decades. As late as 1970 the top five orchestras in the U.S. had fewer than 5% women. In 1952 the Boston Symphony held its first blind audition using a screen to hide the person’s gender. Other orchestras followed suit in the late 1970 and 1980s.
Interestingly for those denying bias, he screen alone did not fix the issue. Bias creeps in when you least expect it. Studies found the sound of a woman’s shoes allegedly influenced some judge’s selections until everyone auditioning was instructed to remove his or her shoes before stepping onto the stage. After implementing blind auditions women began to win spots in top orchestras and now women make up over 47% of players in the American ensembles.
Literally playing on the same stage does not make the genders equal, though. Ms. Rowe, 44, is paid about $70,000 less each year than John Ferrillo, 62, the principal oboist, based on data in the lawsuit. The two play next to each other in the orchestra and manage very similar work. The suit also claims Ms. Rowe is paid less than the orchestra’s principal trumpet, viola, timpani, and French horn players, all of whom are men.
When asked about the suit, Mr. Ferillo said in a statement to the Boston Globe, “I consider Elizabeth to be my peer and equal and at least as worthy of the compensation that I receive as I am.”
We should applaud Mr. Ferillo for his support but acknowledge statements like his, after the fact, are not enough. We need leaders to change the way compensation decisions get made and organizations who are open to designing their own version of the blind audition screen.
A Call to Action:
Are you an executive? Proactively review your compensation structure and design ensuring a fair and transparent compensation policy. Want added incentive to do this? The Massachusetts law gives legal protection against discrimination cases if the company has conducted a self-review of salary disparities within the last three years. In other words you can proactively do the right thing and protect your company.
Not an executive? You can still act. Men should consider sharing their salaries with a single female colleague (or more!) Women can ask a male colleague what his salary is. Explain your concerns about the gender pay gap – talking about the issue can often bring important disparities to light. Even if you’re an independent contractor or at a small organization, you can share your compensation info with someone in your same field or position.
We need to stop handling compensation as if it were a giant secret. The more we talk about pay within organizations the closer we will get to eliminating the pay gap. As Justice Brandeis once said “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”