When Dealing with the Gender Pay Gap, Make it About the Gap Not the Gender

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Jackie Kolek.

Gender-Wage-Gap-2Since news broke earlier this week about Jill Abramson’s departure from The New York Times, there has been intense speculation about the reasons for her ousting.  Internal politics, management style or clashes over native advertising?  Maybe.  But the theory that is getting the most play and creating the most debate is whether she was fired for demanding that she be paid equal to the man she replaced.  According to the New Yorker,  Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and prior to that as managing editor were significantly less than those of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs.  The article states that she “confronted the top brass,” and in turn she labeled as “pushy” and subsequently fired.

The incident has rekindled the debate over equal pay for women and just how much women are underpaid in the same roles as men.  It’s estimated that women typically earn about 75% – 80% of what men do in the same jobs.  And while the debate rages on about how to end the pay gap forever, the key question in Jill Abramson’s case is what do you do when it happens to you?

Many years ago I was promoted to a director at Peppercomm and joined the firm’s management committee.  Serving on the committee meant I had access to all sorts of new information, from who was being promoted to who was being fired, raises and salaries.  Shortly after joining the committee our then CFO shared with the committee a list of all our employees and their salaries.  I was shocked to see that two men who were both a level below me were making significantly more money than I was.

I didn’t know whether to cry or scream.  Luckily I did neither.  I thought long and hard about what to do and how best to approach our managing partner about what I saw as a terrible wrong.  I created a list of points on why I should be better compensated – I had more responsibility, I was managing one of the agency’s largest clients, I was managing a group of people, I was leading large new business efforts.  Then I waited for the right moment. When my team won a prestigious industry award for best campaign I felt the timing was right.

I went into the managing partner’s office armed with my talking points and scared to death.  I laid out my argument. He looked at me and said “Yep, you’re right.  I’m sorry I didn’t catch this and we’ll rectify it right away.”  So what I saw as a potential gender gap was really an accounting oversight that was quickly and fairly corrected.

By no means am I suggesting that the gender pay gap doesn’t exist nor that we should ignore it.  But my experience illustrates that assuming it is a deliberate slight isn’t always correct either.  Chances are that if I went in and complained that a man shouldn’t be making more than me that they still would have given me a raise because Peppercomm is the type of company that simply tries to do the right thing.  However, I was glad that I focused on the value that I was bringing to the agency rather than gender inequality.

2 thoughts on “When Dealing with the Gender Pay Gap, Make it About the Gap Not the Gender

  1. Great post, Jackie. Just saying “it’s not fair” doesn’t really do anything–you need to advocate for yourself. And, to your point, the gender pay gap does exist, but that doesn’t mean it’s intentional across the board, sometimes it’s an unfortunate oversight that some would be happy to rectify if it’s brought to their attention.

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