Opinion

The key to post-pandemic recovery? Pay parity

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Coming out of a year blighted by unprecedented loss and human suffering, we enter 2021 on a more optimistic note. Women, who have been particularly impacted by the virus and its aftershocks, have cause to celebrate. The arrival of COVID-19 vaccines allows us to imagine a post-pandemic world, while in the political sphere, representation is at an all-time high: In the United States, we (finally!) have a woman in the vice president’s office, a doctor serving as first lady, and more women than ever serving in our house and senate. However, we must also acknowledge the barriers these women had to overcome to reach high office. If real efforts aren’t taken to address these inequalities, their gains will remain the exception, rather than the rule. 

For every 100 men promoted and hired to manager, only 72 women are promoted and hired. Lean In calls this the “broken rung,” a phenomenon that leaves women stuck at the entry level, holding them back from reaching manager positions at the same rates as their male counterparts. And when it comes to pay, at our current rate of progress, the World Economic Forum’s projections show that we won’t achieve gender parity on a global scale until the year 2277 — and that isn’t even taking into account the decades of progress that have been undone by COVID-19.

COVID-19 has taken a devastating toll on women, exacerbating existing challenges and creating new ones. Women of color have been hit the hardest: Last month, 9.1 percent of Latinas and 8.4 percent of Black women were unemployed, compared with 5.7 percent of white women and 5.8 percent of white men. 

Women have always borne a disproportionate burden of caregiving duties; now, as a direct result of the pandemic, McKinsey & Company reports that nearly 1 in 4 American women are considering leaving the workforce. Forget decades of progress; this would undo a century of progress.

These numbers are not just hypothetical. Between August and September, 865,000 women dropped out of the labor force, compared with 216,000 men in the same period of time, according to a National Women’s Law Center analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics September jobs report. Women accounted for 100 percent of U.S. jobs lost in December, and while losing a job can be devastating,  research from Payscale estimates that women already lose as much as $900,000 over the course of their career due to the pay gap. This means they have fewer assets, less savings and less ability to weather a crisis.

Still, with vaccine distribution beginning, many are hoping for some resumption of normalcy in the near future. However, returning to “business as usual” should not be the goal. In the “business as usual” scenario, gender inequalities would persist for another 257 years.

As we rebuild all that has been destroyed or disrupted over the past 10 months, we have an opportunity to create a better normal. That has been a key focus area for us at The Female Quotient, where we have held more than 400 virtual conversations since the onset of the pandemic. Each panel has a unique focus area, but one common theme has emerged: the urgent need for change.

The business world has a pivotal role to play in this — and that brings me back to pay parity. Women make up nearly half of the global population, yet are increasingly underrepresented at every ascending level of the corporate ladder.

As businesses seek to recover from the pandemic, they cannot afford to neglect the power of hiring, retaining, and promoting equitably. After all, a myriad of research shows that businesses with more diverse leadership are able to innovate faster, attract better talent and claim greater market share.

As conscious leaders, we have to see that it isn’t just the right thing to do for our employees, it’s the right thing to do for our businesses, too. And it starts with the numbers. That’s why The Female Quotient and Citi developed and released a free tool for leaders to take that first step and look at the data. The Advancing Equality Calculator allows organizations to calculate raw gender pay gap, and determine how closing their wage gap could contribute to their bottom line in addition to GDP.

There is no single cure-all to achieving equality in the workplace. Pay parity, as crucial as it is, doesn’t automatically remove all the other issues. Change must be organizational. As leaders, we must invest in our talent pipelines intentionally, focusing on women and people of color. By nurturing our talent from entry- to executive-level, and giving them the tools they need to succeed, we can improve our companies from the ground up.

And so, if you are wishing for a brighter future in 2021 and beyond, I implore you to roll up your sleeves and help lay the foundations of that better future. By making conscious decisions in our talent development and growth strategies, we are taking the first step towards achieving gender pay equity — hopefully, long before the year 2277.

Shelley Zalis is CEO of The Female Quotient.