20160429_093818Last week I went to a half-day conference put on by the Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau and Gap Inc. along with a number of other sponsors to discuss the on-going battle to close the wage gap.

April 12, 2016 was Equal Pay Day – a date that symbolizes how far into the year women have to work to earn what men earned in the previous year.

The welcome and opening felt like a call to action right from the start in a really great way, particularly the short talks shared by Kelly Jenkins-Pultz of the Us Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau and Emily m Murase the Executive Director of the SF Department on the Status of Women. I can get a bit overwhelmed with a lot of statistics (I’m more of a words than numbers kind of gal) but they shared the information in a really digestible way, which was a style continued throughout the all of the presentations.

Next up was Dan Briskin & Peter Pawlick of Gap Inc. who shared the progressive measures that the company has taken to ensure they’re paying men and women equally for equal work. It’s astounding that this should be a rarity, yet it is, and Gap Inc. is definitely a company that’s leading the way.

Peter & Dan shared the three key success factors they’ve identified to make pay equality a reality:

  1. There needs to be a commitment from management to promote an inclusive culture of equality.
  2. There needs to be a commitment to monitor and analyze pay data.
  3. Tools and resources need to be available for managers to support them in making fair pay decisions.

Then there was a panel, though it was more like a series of short presentations by each person. Again there was a lot of statistics (and a lot of them kind of depressing), but there were also some lights in the dark.

One of the big threads of discussion is how previous salary and personality are too often used to determine salary (and raises/promotions) in new positions, which tends to result in the lower pay for women. Compensation should be based on the job description & requirements as well as performance.

One of the statistics that jumped out at me and was sadly shocking even with all the anecdotal evidence I’ve heard was shared by Jamie Dolkas*, Director of Women’s Leadership, Center for Worklife Law, UC Hastings College of the Law –

76% of women verses 2% of men are given personality criticism during performance reviews.

Seriously, my jaw dropped when I heard that. The study showed (I’ll try to hunt down a link!) that men were given reviews that focused on constructive feedback (regarding their actual job) while women’s reviews often focused around complaints about bossiness or other personality conflicts.

Another point Jamie* made is that, “Women often believe the tiara syndrome which means keeping your head down and assuming you’ll be recognized for skills and work ethic, as opposed to the squeaky wheel method which is that the people who ask for raises (often men) are the ones that get them, regardless of skills or work ethics.

Dawn Lyon, the VP of Corporate Affairs at Glassdoor talked about negotiation and the difference between how many women didn’t negotiate (68%) and how many men didn’t negotiate (52%) when it came time to talk about salary and benefits.

After a networking break, the room gathered for small round-table discussions. As a logistics note, I love that they added a table number to each persons name tag which assigned which table to go to. Small group discussions can be great but I hate that grade-school method of having to walk around and find a table with a space and ask to join. I’m a confident & direct person and even I find that system awkward!

The room was mostly populated with corporate and government employees but there was a startup presence too. The event organizers had provided a list of questions for us to discuss, though our conversation organically moved to struggles a few table members were facing around fair pay at their jobs.

One of the men at the table shared that when he heard the statistics about women’s performance reviews being focused on personality rather than performance it had made him think of a recent case when he realized that had happened in his own promotion process. A woman who’s an excellent performer hadn’t been promoted because her personality had been the focus of her reviews. She was actually vocal about that experience and now he wasn’t sure how to proceed.

Awareness is only the first step, putting equality into practice is a much longer journey.

Closing remarks included Julie Su, the California State Labor Commissioner who opened with a poignant statement.

One reason for the gender pay equity disparity is that it’s not a “polite conversation” to have, so people don’t talk about it.

This was something I had brought up during the table discussion. Society has such a complicated relationship to talking about money that even after awareness has grown and companies recognize that something has to be done about the wage gap, it will still take time & determination to have these conversations and to get over the taboo of talking about money.

The afternoon was closed out by Danielle West, a high school student and Equal Pay Advocate. Seeing young women get involved in activism is always so heartening, she was poised and talked about the women in her family being her role-models.

It was a short day, but they managed to create quite a few important conversations in only three hours. Every single time these conferences are had in a public, supportive, and smart way then we get closer to demolishing the wage disparity.

*Edit: I mistakenly credited a quote to Clara Brenner originally that was actually made by Jamie Dolkas. My apologies to both women!

Added May 5, 2016 – The event organizer graciously provided these slide decks –  Mind the Gap & KJP Factors Behind the Wage Gap

You can check out my Storify from the event here that shows all the tweets from the day, not just my own, but I’ve included a few of my favorite live-tweets below.


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