For Executive Women, Gender-based Pay, Leadership Inequities Persist

By Diane Merlino

Progress has been made in raising the glass ceiling, but in much of the business world — including the travel industry — significant gender-based pay and leadership inequities persist. A disproportionate percentage of men hold top leadership and board positions in corporations, and data from various sources confirm that men still earn more than women for doing the same job.  

U.S. Census data covering more than 500 different jobs across multiple industries reveal that, with almost no exceptions, men are paid more than women for doing the same job in the same industry.  

In real numbers, women in the U.S. earn about 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gap that results in an estimated deficit of $380,000 over the course of a woman’s career, according to Women Employed, a workplace fairness and education advocacy organization. The gap is even wider for women of color. Data from Women Employed reveal that, compared with what men are paid, African American women earn about 70 cents on the dollar, and Latinas earn about 60 cents on the dollar.  

Laurel Bellows says those figures are accurate — and sobering. Bellows is a principal with Chicago-based The /uploadedImages/TW_Plus/xTW_Plus_Images_ONLY/LaurelBellows.jpgBellows Law Group, president of the American Bar Assn., and a business lawyer with more than three decades of experience counseling senior executives around the world on a variety of employment issues, including compensation. She has also written and lectured extensively on matters involving the advancement of professional women.  

Bellows’ work and her own experience as a woman in the legal profession have given her a broad perspective on the challenges posed by overcoming inequities in the workplace and the progress being made. While the pay gap might be shrinking, albeit slowly, there remains much room for improvement in the area of women and business leadership. 

“It’s across all industries,” Bellows told Travel Weekly PLUS. “Unfortunately, when you look at senior officers, proxy officers, senior management, and boards of directors, you are not seeing a reflection of the population of women in this country.” 

Efforts are being made to correct the imbalance in corporate leadership. “I do see a lot of effort,” Bellows said. “Many corporations have begun to take serious and positive steps to address these issues in their succession plans, making certain that they are training for a succession of women and people of color, including women of color. But I'm not seeing the results. I am not seeing a pipeline resulting in the advancement of women in significant numbers to senior leadership positions in the executive suite.” 

This is the first installment from a discussion between Bellows and Travel Weekly PLUS Editor in Chief Diane Merlino about leadership and pay equity in the workplace.  

Merlino: Laurel, this topic has been explored from a lot of different angles, and one common explanation for the difference in pay for men and women is that women make different career choices than men. Do the figures from Census and Women Employed paint an accurate and full picture of the situation?
I want to destroy the myth that these figures are based on women's choice of career — that they are choosing a lesser career or a career that allows them to work part time, or make less of a commitment to the job. These are apples-to-apples comparisons of women and men in comparable positions. That’s extremely important. It’s a great distress that at this juncture in our history, 50 years after the adoption of the Equal Pay Act, we still have these numbers.

Merlino: Many of our readers are executives in the travel industry. Do you see pay inequity on every level in the business world, from low-level employees right up to corporate leaders?
The fact is that executive men are earning more than executive women in comparable positions. I don't have the statistics for all senior executive-level women, but I know that women equity partners in law firms earn 89 cents on the dollar.

And I can tell you that I often see unequal pay on my desk in both the employment contracts and the separation agreements I handle for executive men and women — whether that’s because, as some people say, women simply don't push and ask for increased bonuses, compensation, equity positions, options or stock, or whether they are simply given what one could rationalize as comparable pay but on the low end of comparable. 

I need to add the fact that there is still a difference in the reaction people have to a woman's request and a man’s request for what you and I might term fair pay. Men are respected for requesting a promotion and women are often seen as greedy, all for themselves, and not team players when they push for equality of pay. Personality stereotypes remain as barriers for women as they seek equality of pay and equality of promotional opportunity within their corporations.

Merlino: Have you actually observed the different reaction to men and women requesting pay and promotional advancement?
I see it every day. Eighty percent or more of my clients are men. I see men receiving adequate and fair compensation and women needing to push to receive that, and when they do, almost without exception they suffer some form of temporary or permanent stigma.

In employment situations for senior women executives, it's very difficult because the first level of compensation sets your base. What you negotiate initially sets the level on which you will be compensated from that time forward.

Men are able to ask for what they believe to be fair and push harder for more than they think they should receive, as part of negotiating an employment contract that comes to a conclusion that all parties believe to be fair.  Put women in that situation and they are often perceived as too pushy, too greedy, and someone that the corporation doesn't want to employ. Men don't suffer that.

Merlino: Was the recession a setback to progress in the areas of equal pay and leadership opportunity?
The recession put pay equality, as far as vocal questioning, on the back burner. Jobs were so important, regardless of pay, that it was just not an issue. Employment of any kind was the necessity; equality of pay was a lesser concern.

Merlino: As the job market recovers, what do you see as the main obstacle to equal pay and opportunity for men and women?
Corporations truly need to understand that while we may not have blatant bias in huge percentages, we have implicit bias. We all carry our own biases that need to be recognized and overcome.

Those corporations and employers that are making the most progress understand that implicit bias comes into performance reviews, development plans, and who you are selecting as your potential leaders. Implicit bias has to be overcome and set aside in order to make sure that you're giving the kind of training and coaching to the people that you want to lead your company or organization into the future. 

And, obviously, performance evaluations feed directly into compensation. People are often not compensated comparably because their performance reviews are skewed by some form of implicit bias: “She is too aggressive,” or “She accomplished the task I gave her but I didn't like the way in which it was accomplished; it wasn't my way.”  Those are good examples of the kind of implicit bias that would affect somebody's performance review and their ability to move into a comparable bonus situation or comparable compensation in a leadership position.

NEXT WEEK: The bottom-line impact of gender-based pay and leadership inequities in the workplace.


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