Women still earn less than men. 6 leaders explain how to fix that

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LESSONS IN LEADERSHIP

March 15 marks Equal Pay Day, a date that symbolizes how far into the new year women have to work in order to earn as much as men did in the previous year. According to the US Census Bureau, women make, on average, just 83 cents for every dollar men earn. That number hasn’t improved much over the years – a decade ago, it was around 77 cents. And it’s even worse for women of color.

Corporate officers and government officials need to take a hard look at the deep-rooted practices and policies that have allowed the gender pay gap to persist. Whether it’s evaluating internal pay discrepancies, placing more women in decision-making roles or passing federal legislation that guarantees things like paid family leave or more affordable child care, there are steps our leaders can take to ensure they’re supporting the women who contribute trillions of dollars to the US economy each year.

CNN Business asked CEOs and other leaders to explain what they think can be done to help close the gender gap. Here’s what they had to say:

(The following responses have been edited for clarity and length.)

Janet Yellen
US Secretary of the Treasury

Research has shown that although women now enter professional schools at rates nearly equal to men, they are still substantially less likely to reach the highest echelons of their professions… One of the contributing factors to this disparity is that top jobs in fields such as law and business require longer workweeks and penalize individuals with caretaking responsibilities.”

The gender pay gap stubbornly persists. What needs to be done in order to close it?

Women have made major strides over the last several decades, and America’s economy has benefitted as a result. Despite this progress, evidence suggests that many women remain unable to achieve equality in the workplace, particularly when it comes to the pay gap. And that gap is particularly large when we’re talking about women of color.

Labor market policies and norms that discourage a healthy balance between work and family commitments contribute to this disparity. Research has shown that although women now enter professional schools at rates nearly equal to men, they are still substantially less likely to reach the highest echelons of their professions. For example, in the field of law, women make up 47% of students at the top 50 law schools but comprise just 17% of equity partners at the nation’s top law firms.

One of the contributing factors to this disparity is that top jobs in fields such as law and business require longer workweeks and penalize individuals with caretaking responsibilities. This has a disproportionately large effect on women who continue to bear the lion’s share of domestic and child-rearing responsibilities. The increased demands on caretakers during the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated this dynamic.

We can and should address these challenges. The Biden-Harris Administration’s economic agenda prioritizes policies that reduce the cost of child care, provide families more access to at-home care for a loved one who falls ill, and provide paid leave to workers. This suite of policies will help improve the economic standing of women.

By breaking down barriers to employment, these pro-family polices have the added benefit of attracting more women to the workforce and increasing the labor force participation rate. One published review found that a 10% decline in the price of child care raises mothers’ employment by 0.5% to 2.5%, which led the Council of Economic Advisers to conclude that Biden Administration child care policies would boost affected parents’ employment rates by between 4% and 20%.

From history, we know that women’s participation in the paid workforce has resulted in substantial benefits to America’s economy that extend well beyond a narrowed pay gap. When women do well, we all do better. It’s vital that we make progress on this issue. Doing so will advance equality for women, strengthen the economic situation of families and grow the economy overall.

Janet Yellen is the 78th Secretary of the Treasury of the United States.

Photo: US Department of the Treasury

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Rosalind (Roz) Brewer
CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance

[Y]ears ago, I was offered a fraction of what a male predecessor was making (and I knew such because his compensation was disclosed publicly as an officer of the company). I pushed back and negotiated more equitable pay for myself…I share this story intentionally with women I trust, so they know others have experienced inequity, fought for equal or fair pay and received it.”

The gender pay gap stubbornly persists. What needs to be done in order to close it?

In order to close the gender pay gap, we as business leaders must be intentional about equitable pay, not just as a philosophy but in practice. When I join a company, one of the first actions I take is analysis of team member pay by gender and race. I review the data and if there are inequities based on gender or race, I ask my direct reports ‘How did this happen? And why?’ and then we fix the issue.

The other intentional action I take is that I share some of my unfortunate past experiences very openly with other women I mentor. For instance, years ago I was offered a fraction of what a male predecessor was making (and I knew such because his compensation was disclosed publicly as an officer of the company). I pushed back and negotiated more equitable pay for myself. It wasn’t easy but I did it. I share this story intentionally with women I trust, so they know others have experienced inequity, fought for equal or fair pay and received it. Discussing pay can be uncomfortable for some, so I make a point to share my past experiences when possible, so women know it is both acceptable and advisable to advocate for equal pay.

We must be intentional to close the gender pay gap.

Rosalind (Roz) Brewer is CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance.

Photo: Courtesy of Walgreens Boots Alliance

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Thasunda Brown Duckett
President and CEO of TIAA

We need to invest in women, whether through formal mentoring programs, upskilling opportunities or leadership development. Helping more women obtain more senior roles will, of course, help reduce the pay gap.”

The gender pay gap stubbornly persists. What needs to be done in order to close it?

We’ve made progress in closing the gender pay gap, but there’s a long way to go: Women on average still only make 83 cents to the dollar that men earn, and they retire with 30% less retirement income.

First and foremost, we have to talk about real numbers. Pay transparency is key to understanding where we’re falling short. Companies should publish realistic salary scales, with ranges for all levels of roles. Organizations also need to conduct regular pay equity audits to identify and fix compensation gaps. We have to be intentional about tracking outcomes. Because what gets measured gets managed. Regular measurement and reporting have to be embedded structurally in the process.

Employers should also offer benefits that support women, like paid parental-leave programs that make it more likely women will return to work with the same or higher pay. Other benefits that would be helpful include flexible savings accounts for child care or eldercare expenses, backup-care support and flexible work schedules. And all of these benefits should be extended to all employees, including men, both because it’s the right thing to do and because doing so reduces stigma and penalties for caregivers.

Finally, we need to build a talent pipeline. Companies should ensure clear pathways for all and encourage leaders to have active conversations about advancement and goals. We need to invest in women, whether through formal mentoring programs, upskilling opportunities or leadership development. Helping more women obtain more senior roles will, of course, help reduce the pay gap.

The gender pay gap is stubborn, so we have to be stubborn, too. Accountability for change has to come from the top, across all areas of leadership. So let’s insist on actions that will drive transformational progress toward true equality.

Thasunda Brown Duckett is president and CEO of retirement provider, TIAA

Photo: Courtesy of TIAA

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Elizabeth Warren
Senior US Senator, Massachusetts

[M]any moms need or want to work, but they need child care first. I know — because I wouldn’t have made it without help from my Aunt Bee. But not everyone has family to turn to for care or can afford to spend 20% of their income on child care fees. Expanding access to child care would increase the number of moms with young children working full-time by about 17%.”

The gender pay gap stubbornly persists. What needs to be done in order to close it?

A single policy change — universal access to affordable, quality child care — would make nearly a decade’s worth of progress in closing the gender pay gap.

It’s simple: many moms need or want to work, but they need child care first. I know — because I wouldn’t have made it without help from my Aunt Bee. But not everyone has family to turn to for care or can afford to spend 20% of their income on child care fees. Expanding access to child care would increase the number of moms with young children working full-time by about 17%. For a mom with two kids, her lifetime earnings would increase by over $90,000, and her lifetime savings and benefits would dramatically improve, too. That’s life-changing for her, and great for the American economy.

By investing in child care, we can also raise wages for child care workers – who are overwhelmingly women and shamefully underpaid. Women make up 95% of the child care workforce, and many are women of color.

In 2020, child care workers without children in 40 states did not earn enough to cover basic needs, and all 50 states failed to meet the standard for a living wage for child care workers with one child or more.

That means, in most states, between 10% to 25% of the child care workforce lives below the poverty line, and more than half rely on public income supports. Major investments in child care would create thousands of good jobs for women, especially women of color, who do the essential work of nurturing our babies and their families.

Investments in child care would yield transformative benefits for babies, women, and families across the country, including helping to close the gender pay gap and to deepen our current economic recovery. I won’t stop fighting for affordable, quality child care for all families and higher wages for all child care workers.

Elizabeth Warren is the senior United States Senator from Massachusetts.

Photo: Office of US Senator Elizabeth Warren

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Carol B. Tome
CEO of UPS

Across the corporate landscape, there needs to be regular evaluations of employment and pay practices to ensure fair compensation based on consistent criteria — and without systemic bias.”

The gender pay gap stubbornly persists. What needs to be done in order to close it?

Since my first day as UPS’s CEO in 2020, one of my top priorities has been to ensure fair and equitable pay for all the company’s employees.

To close the pay gap, it’s first necessary for companies to proactively seek out and address disparities within their own organization. Soon after starting as CEO, I commissioned a pay equity study for our US employees by a trusted, third-party organization. They examined whether UPS had any significant gender or race disparities when it comes to compensation.

The study found that, overall, UPS paid employees fairly, and there was no evidence of systemic pay inequity. However, we did identify isolated discrepancies in pay and acted immediately to fix them. Each affected individual had conversations with a Human Resources representative and soon after received a pay increase.

Across the corporate landscape, there needs to be regular evaluations of employment and pay practices to ensure fair compensation based on consistent criteria — and without systemic bias. That is why UPS formed its Equity, Justice and Action Task Force, a group of employees that identify steps the company can take to advance positive change and address systemic inequality.

We’ve learned that transparent communication to employees is crucial. At UPS, we communicated the process and findings of the study and explained our actions to be more equitable to our employees worldwide. We want every UPS employee, regardless of title or position, to know we are serious about taking meaningful steps toward equity across the organization.

By taking a proactive, consistent and transparent approach to identifying and addressing the pay gap, we hold ourselves accountable and provide pathways for all employees to reach their full potential. That’s how we move our world forward by delivering what matters.

Carol B. Tome is CEO of UPS.

Photo: Courtesy of UPS

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Abigail Disney
Documentary filmmaker

Of all the forces arrayed against women’s dignity, media — and by that, I mean Hollywood, journalism, the gaming industry and so forth — most hinders women’s advancement… We have to pass laws, enforce them, and force companies to be accountable.”

The gender pay gap stubbornly persists. What needs to be done in order to close it?

It is no secret that the gender pay gap is a legacy of structures and systems that have denigrated and devalued the work that women have historically done. It therefore stands to reason that it would have to be systems and structures like media, government and corporations — not individuals — that must drive change.

But if rates of violence against women have not improved, if the denigration of women in the media remains par for the course, if our most storied institutions remain under the control of White men, how can we claim that women stand in equal dignity, possibility and security with men?

This is demonstrably untrue.

You can try to solve a recalcitrant social problem simply where it manifests. That feels logical and efficient. But again and again we find that kind of solution to be unreliable, often merely cosmetic, and usually ephemeral. It requires a trip upstream to where the problems started to understand the history, dynamics and inequities that have brought men and women to this point.

Of all the forces arrayed against women’s dignity, media — and by that, I mean Hollywood, journalism, the gaming industry and so forth — most hinders women’s advancement. Words matter; images matter, and the more they are designed to be striking and memorable, the more often they are repeated, the greater their impact on our spiritual, moral, intellectual and political formation.

Given the climate in which even the best of us is formed, how can we expect anything better than the pay gap we have?

Please, by all means, we have to pass laws, enforce them, and force companies to be accountable. But while we’re at it, we must take the time to venture upstream and engage the problems at their source. That’s where real change lies.

Abigail Disney is a documentary filmmaker, co-founder of Fork Films and podcast host of “All Ears.”

Photo: Michael Angelo

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Design and development by Tal Yellin