Beyond Patricia Arquette’s Speech – Solving the Wage Gap

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Beyond Patricia Arquette’s Speech – Solving the Wage Gap

Jennifer Lopez applauded. Meryl Streep almost leapt to her feet. Social media exploded. If Patricia Arquette’s goal was to get people talking, her plea for wage equality between women and men was a huge success. Now for the hard part: making the change.

It made me think of an example in my own life: Years ago, my father was the foreman in a truck and tractor repair shop. The men working under his supervision came to him and asked for a raise. My Dad asked each of them to write the hourly wage he thought he was worth on a sheet of paper and sign it. He reviewed each of the requests, found them fair, and persuaded the owner to give each man what he asked for.

The men on his crew were ecstatic for a week: then they found out what the others were making and complained that their salary was not the same. My father produced each person’s signed request and asked if they had received the pay they requested and each acknowledged that they had. At that point my Dad told them that it wasn’t his fault that they didn’t value their contribution and that he would look at an adjustment in six months.

Similarly, outgoing Sony Pictures Co-Chairman Amy Pascal defended the idea of pay disparity, “I run a business.

[If] people want to work for less money; I’ll pay them less money. I don’t call them up and go, can I give you some more?”

A number of researchers have pointed to the differences in average salaries being the result of occupational, choices. Petroleum engineers have a median income of $120,000 per year while social workers make about $50,000. More men are petroleum engineers. More women are social workers.

You can even say that it is the economics of the marketplace. Tom Cruise makes more per film than Meryl Streep based on box office drawing power rather than talent.

But while true, those factors mask a dirty little secret: The biggest challenge to changing the wage gap is how we think about women and their worth.

Let’s start with the guys, especially those of us in positions where we are hiring people. We need to make sure that we are not viewing women through the lens of our own values and beliefs.

I’m not suggesting that every guy in charge looks at women as automatically worth less money or is even malicious in their intent. But I suspect that many of you, like me, have heard comments such as these from male bosses who view themselves as defenders of equal pay: “I expect that she will want to work fewer hours now that she has a baby,” or “I don’t know how mobile she will be now that she is married.”

Bias creeps into discussions about pay raises, too. One senior leader from a former consulting client told me, “He needs more money because his wife doesn’t work outside the home.” I have also heard the corollary; she doesn’t need as big of a raise because her husband has a good job with great benefits.

Guys, you may expect that your wife will stay home, reduce her workload, or step off the promotion track to support you and raise a family. That doesn’t mean that the female you are hiring shares that view. The illegality of that thought aside, pregnancy and family leave are not signs of a lack of commitment. And, having a family certainly isn’t a sign that someone’s contribution is any less. Any thought, conscious or unconscious, to the contrary continues the disparity.

We also have to increase wage transparency. Wage gaps tend to be smaller in organizations such as the government and unionized jobs where everyone knows what others are making. Discussing your pay with others is frowned upon or even expressly forbidden in many private sector companies. Human Resource professionals will tell you that you don’t want people comparing individual salaries. One solution is posting an annual salary comparison at your company by gender, ethnicity, and any other status that your staff feels is important.

And ladies, some of the reason you aren’t getting paid as much as the male you are outworking is your own fault.

Amy Pascal isn’t a middle-aged white guy with a “Leave It To Beaver” view of the world. She’s a woman running a business. You must ask for what you are worth; learn to negotiate based on strength; and realize that it is sometimes necessary to walk away from a bad deal.

I understand that many of the current generation of female workers were not trained in negotiation skills. You may have been reinforced to go along rather than push hard for something that you want. You have probably felt the sting that comes from realizing that the difference between being labeled a go-getter and a Bitch is based more on gender than approach. I get it. But, Pascal was right.

President John Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963. We are still seeing a wage gap over 50 years later. That tells me that the problem isn’t one that can be solved with a passionate plea during an Oscar acceptance speech. It requires a change in thinking from men and women about a woman’s financial worth in the workplace.

About the Author:

Randy Pennington

Randy Pennington is an award-winning author and a leading authority on helping organizations deliver positive results in a world of accelerating change. To learn more or to hire Randy for your next meeting, visit or call 972-980-9857.