As a woman in the workforce, I find the persistence of wage inequality in this country deeply troubling. It is simply unacceptable that the average American woman makes 77 cents to her male coworker’s dollar — and that’s just the average. There are states where women take home as low as 66 percent of what men do for the exact same workload, and even states who notoriously pay employees more than anywhere else in the country still pay females an average of at least 6 percent less than they pay their male employees.
Additionally, and perhaps even more concerning, is the sad fact that this gap doesn’t get any better in fields traditionally dominated by women. According to a recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association, even healthcare is guilty of paying it’s male professionals more than it’s female ones who hold the same, or very similar, positions. As a healthcare professional, and a woman, I could not be more disappointed by these results.
So, as you can imagine, I was not pleased with the Ellen Pao verdict either. Ellen Pao, a former partner at venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, sued her ex-employer for $16 million in lost wages and punitive damages. She claims she was discriminated against because of her gender by failing to be promoted and then fired and retaliated against because she spoke up about her perceived treatment.
In her first interview since losing the landmark Silicon Valley trial, Pao told The Wall Street Journal that she has eliminated salary negotiations from the hiring process at Reddit, where she currently serves as interim CEO.
However, while Pao lost the trial, even she recognizes the victory that was gained by spreading awareness of wage inequality. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal Pao shared,
“I think it’s an issue of education and making people aware of it. Women who felt like they were uncomfortable before, that there was something that just wasn’t right, are hopefully now more comfortable pointing it out. They’re now able to point to discussions and research about it.”
Clearly, this very public loss will only serve to encourage women who have also experienced gender bias on a professional level to share their stories and hopefully effect the change we all need to see on this issue.
Going forward, there is a lot to be learned from this trial. Primarily, salary negotiation is a lose-lose practice for any workplace that wishes to promote equitable wages for the talent they have worked hard to recruit and retain. Whether an employer intends it or not, studies have shown that women are far less likely to come out of salary negotiations as winners because the personality traits required to successfully navigate these negotiations (e.g. assertiveness and aggressiveness) are generally viewed as unappealing in female professionals, whereas they are respected when exhibited by male professionals interviewing for the same positions. Pao personally feels this way so strongly, in fact, that in her current role as CEO of Reddit she has eliminated money talk from the company’s hiring process — taking salary negotiation completely off the table.
So, what can be done to ensure you’re not guilty of gender bias toward your potential healthcare employees? For starters, take gender out of the equation. Next, forget about salary negotiation and instead pay all of your employees based on the data available to you. What is the average pay rate for the position you’re seeking to fill? How large is your facility? Is your facility in a rural location or an urban one? All of these factors will affect how much you should be offering prospective employees, and all of them can be analyzed quick and painlessly with compensation data. Compensation market data is the simplest way to verify that you and your hiring team are making informed decisions regarding your compensation packages, whilst providing you with proof that your pay rates are fair and comparable to others in your industry.
It may be some time before salary negotiation is a thing of the past, and it will certainly take time for the wage gap to close completely. That being said, there is no reason why any industry, least of all the healthcare industry, should still be compensating their employees differently based on gender and/or negotiation skills. Healthcare employees work some of the hardest, most stressful jobs in existence. Don’t reward them with gender bias. Take advantage of the compensation market databases available to you, and little by little we can work together to end wage inequality in general, and in healthcare specifically.