Three ways PR industry leaders can start to fix pay inequality

You might think that an industry dominated by women would be a leader in pay equity. You'd be wrong.

Eastwick's Heather Kernahan
Eastwick's Heather Kernahan

As general manager of a tech integrated communications agency working with companies such as the Anita Borg Institute, Mediaocean, Women’s Startup Lab, and Women 2.0, I read voraciously about women in business and technology.

I can quote the stats about the gender pay gap both here and in Canada, where I grew up. In an industry filled with women, I thought we would buck the trend, but I was wrong. Reading the 2015 PRWeek Salary Survey, I was shocked and disappointed that such a wide gap existed, and it only seems to widen with more years of experience.

Much has been written about what women can do to address pay inequity when they are negotiating for a new role. I could touch on that, but I realized that as an industry leader, there is a bigger impact to make by ensuring that I make pay equity part of the conversation with my peers and know my compensation in detail at my company. When negotiating for a new role, here are three things I’m calling industry leaders to do on pay equity day.

Know your compensation data
If you oversee or approve compensation and salaries, you have a responsibility to review your data and see where your company is performing. Ask your HR or finance manager to pull salaries by each salary band and by gender so you can look at your data a few different ways. By doing this work, you will see where your gap exists, if you have any. You might not like the answer, but look the data straight in the face so you have a starting point for even thinking about pay equity within your company. Once you know your data, you can put it on the agenda for review in your leadership team meetings to bring all company leadership into the conversation.

Make a plan to address the gap
Ellen Pao, interim CEO of Reddit, has taken a bold step towards addressing the pay-equity gap and declared that compensation offers aren’t negotiable at the company any longer. Research repeatedly shows that men negotiate harder than women do, and when women do negotiate, they get penalized for it.

Ideas for addressing the gap include creating a schedule for increasing salaries for employees affected by the gap, developing training on unconscious bias so managers become aware of bias, whether it’s about compensation or other management issues, and deciding how new employment offers and salary increases will be managed. Each business leader in the industry can make a plan to address the gap in the way that makes sense for them.

Join me in keeping pay equity top of conversation
Let’s all talk about this frequently. I’d like to see conference tracks and panels about pay-equity solutions. When we get together at events, workshops, and working groups, let’s put pay equity on the agenda and be honest about the data we gather at our companies. It’s a topic we need to make ourselves comfortable with so we can all level set and move forward. Let’s discuss the unconscious biases that exist in our industry filled with women that have kept the pay-equity gap so big even through so many decades of progress.

As business leaders, it’s within our control to change the trajectory of gender-pay inequity and make sure that the 2016 survey shows we’re all serious about closing the gap.

Heather Kernahan is GM and EVP at Eastwick and a business mentor at Women’s Startup Lab.

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