Does Pay Gap Perception Matter More Than Reality?

Is the pay gap real? Women think it is…and that alone is a problem for employers.

Another global company — Bayer — has just been hit with a class-action gender discrimination suit.

On behalf of all women at the international pharmaceutical company, six current and former women employees abandoned their EEOC complaints to file the lawsuit. Their complaints include pay discrimination and denied promotions, especially against working mothers. 

Predictably, Bayer denies it all. In what is becoming a tiresome trend, the company trumpets the usual array of diversity awardsCatalyst and Working Mother Media — as evidence of its exemplary accomplishments.

While the lawyers settle in for good, long, lucrative battle, here’s something for the rest of us to consider: is the perception of inequity just as  damning as the actuality?

Maybe so, especially if employers persist in hiding behind flimsy goodwill indicators, such as lightweight ‘best’ lists.  When claims of workplace equity are on a collision course with women’s own experiences, their experiences are going to win. When enough women at a workplace experience inequities, their collective experiences become the norm, regardless of what the employer slaps on its website.

At about the same time that the Bayer suit was announced, CareerBuilder released a Harris survey that indicates that women do in fact believe that workplace inequities are growing.  According to the CareerBuilder survey:

  • 38% of women believe they are paid less than similarly qualified men (up  from 34% three years ago)
  • 39% of women believe men have more career advancement opportunities (up from 26%)  
  • 36% of women believe that where they work, men are more often praised for their work
  • 21% of women report that they have management responsibilities, compared to 30% of men

 And this is on the other side of the ‘mancession,’  which women weathered better than men.  If you’re a worker bee with a strong suspicion that practice or culture are working against you where you work, try these steps before taking your complaint to the Equal Opportunity Commission  or the Office of Federal Contract Compliance .

  • Get involved in a diversity council, if your company has one. Well-run councils are internal sounding boards for new programs intended to address questionable elements of company culture or practices. You will get plenty of additional context for your concerns. And, getting involved can help your career, as you will get to know people from other divisions and functions.
  • Research the best practices of leading employers in your industry with the aim of advocating that your employer adopt similar practices.
  • Get a mentor in a different department or function, and hash out your concerns in a confidential setting. Your mentor should be able to help you understand if the inequities you perceive are genuine or if there are other factors at play.

What does this mean for you if you’re in management? That your women employees are probably much more steamed about perceived inequities than you think they are. The higher up the manager, the greater the faith they have in the policies they institute.  Just because you install a policy doesn’t mean it becomes reality. Bayer managers certainly were out of touch. They didn’t intervene in an EEOC investigation in time to head off a lawsuit. Now, they have a lawsuit to introduce them to acquaint them with their company’s culture.


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