Like many people, I followed the recent incident on a Southwest Airlines flight when an engine exploded after taking off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport.
At 32,000 feet, the engine explosion shattered a window and caused significant damage to the aircraft forcing an emergency landing with 149 people on board. The pilot, a veteran, was able to take command of the situation and ultimately landed the plane with nearly all passengers unharmed.
I remembered listening to the news reports that were quick to label the pilot a hero. Many of the broadcasts expressed their praise once the aircraft landed and lauded the success of the pilot after “he set the aircraft down.”
What we found out shortly after was that the pilot wasn’t a “he’ after all. In command of Flight 1380 that day was Tammie Jo Shults, one of the first female fighter pilots in the United States.
Perhaps gender, and pay, wasn’t at the top of most people’s minds that day. After all, the pilot did what they were trained to do and safely landed a damaged plane saving 148 lives.
But it caused me to wonder about pay equity. I was grateful for the efforts demonstrated by Shults. I was also curious in general if female pilots were paid less than their male counterparts. I have no reason to believe Shults is paid any less, since Southwest is very well known for their workplace practices. And according to Southwest spokesman Dan Landon, “Pilot pay is based on a contract with the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association,” and not available to the public.
It does, however, reinforce our belief here at WorldatWork that gender, race and personal attributes should never be used in determining pay — skills, contributions and success, like landing a damaged aircraft, are excellent ways to determine pay variables.
Our recent pay equity study that we conducted with Korn Ferry found that a slight majority of the more than 750 organizations polled are addressing pay equity in their workplaces, one third are still only considering doing the necessary work and 7 percent say pay equity is not on their company’s radar.
We have to do better than that. But, as critical as it is to address pay inequities, we have to be willing to talk about it. Across organizations. Out loud.
Pay equity can drive positive change across an organization. It’s directly tied to engagement and buffets an organization’s bottom line.
Identifying where and how pay equity is occurring in an organization and correcting the disparities are pieces of this complicated puzzle. Pay equity issues are solvable. How companies communicate what they’re doing — why they’re doing it, how it impacts employees and who it affects — are all part of the pay equity ecosystem. Communications must be carefully crafted and delivered in any organization’s compensation and pay equity strategy. Do it wrong, and employee engagement will likely take a hit.
Why this process isn’t further along isn’t a mystery. Typically C-suite or HR departments initiate these efforts. The C-suite is largely concerned with culture. HR is concerned about compliance in an increasingly complex regulatory environment. The exercise cannot be one-time only. These diagnostics must be ongoing to identify, address and then readjust. Then, figuring out what to say, how to say it, when and to whom must be planned and delivered.
Acknowledging a problem is a start, and there is some positive movement in this direction. Recently, a pay analytics company, Syndio, teamed up with the National Women’s Law Center and released pay equity standards. Syndio clients Slack, Nerdwallet and The Match Group agreed to follow them.
The standards include transparency, calling on companies to hold themselves accountable. While transparency is not the goal, it is a great vehicle to ensure fair pay.
Our study suggests that many organizations are not leaning deep enough into the issue. Even when pay equity gaps are uncovered, large organizations are addressing them cautiously.
Roughly three-fourths of organizations have or are conducting remediation or are working to resolve causes of pay inequities, but there is still room for improvement. Twenty-three percent are considering remediation strategies but haven’t yet initiated them and 28 percent are considering working to identify/resolve root causes of pay inequities, but haven’t started yet.
Further, we found that while 31 percent of surveyed organizations agreed that the goal of pay equity programs is to build and maintain a culture of organizational trust, many keep their work to themselves. The vast majority of senior leaders are clued into findings and intent for change, and HR people are informed in 65 percent of the organizations surveyed, but only slightly more than a quarter of organizations say they’re sharing their work via broad-based employee communications. Half say they’re sharing details only with the employees affected by the adjustment.
This is a cultural miss. Full transparency on compensation topics will cultivate a greater sense of trust and fairness among employees. An openness on compensation topics and a stronger understanding of an organization’s compensation philosophy will give employees the information they need to make informed decisions about their personal employment and compensation status.
Going back to the example of the pilot, I imagine she’d like to know that her colleagues are being compensated according to the same criteria as she is. Ultimately, a workforce that trusts its leaders and feels fairly treated is more committed and motivated to deliver results.
Tell them what you’re doing. It will help. And, if your transparency efforts uncover mixed reactions from your employees, thank them, because they are giving you insight into what might work better.
Scott Cawood is the president and CEO for WorldatWork.