Gender Pay Equity: Paying it Forward


When I started my HR career over 15 years ago, gender pay equity was not often talked about. Big companies would reallocate dollars behind the scenes when women were lagging in promotions or merit increases, but we didn’t have the words to describe what was happening.

Today, companies of all sizes can use SaaS based tools to analyze and correct pay equity on a real time basis. Still, women continue to be paid less than men, women of color paid less than white women, and women with children less than those who are not parents.

Paying women and men equally for equal work is not merely a legal question or simply the right thing to do – it’s a business issue. Research shows that companies with more women on boards are more profitable, and companies with more women employees introduce more new, radical innovations.

Women are assets, not a risk or liability. In order to pay women what they’re worth, we have to get better at spotting and interrupting the patterns that consistently result in paying them less.

The Power Of An Advocate

Early in my career after finishing graduate school, I accepted a recruiting  job with a large technology organization. I don’t know if women at that time were being educated in the art of salary negotiation, but I certainly wasn’t. I fully believed that work was a meritocracy, and never questioned how my salary, job level, or rate of promotion compared to my male peers. After a couple years, I was lucky to get a new boss who would become one of my biggest advocates. He sat me down one day and said “Mikaela, why did you take this job at the salary you did?” I had no answer other than it was what I’d been offered.

He made it his mission to catch me up, submitting me for multiple promotions over the next few years. He moved me into a stretch role that gave me exposure to more complex, global work with senior executives. He believed in me, and he went to bat for me. He was the reason I had the leverage to negotiate a six figure salary when I eventually left that company for a new job.

I was lucky to meet him when I did, because low starting salaries cost women huge sums over the course of their careers.

As an employer or hiring manager, you don’t want to be the one responsible for paying women less. If you spot a pay gap, whether it’s one person or a group, take the initiative to fix it. If you’re responsible for hiring, use your role to start all new hires on equal footing.

Price The Job Not The Person

Asking women what they made in their last job or what they expect to make will only perpetuate long standing societal biases.

Women negotiate job offers less often, and are typically less skilled negotiators because they have been socialized not to advocate for themselves.

Since women are paid less than men, they are likely to ask for less. In addition, double standards mean that when men use aggressive negotiation tactics they’re seen as confident whereas women employing the same tactics may be criticized for being threatening or offensive. Relying on whether or how well candidates negotiate will only exacerbate gender pay equity issues.

One proven solution to increased parity is to pay people based on the job.

Stop asking about salary history and expectations, and instead stick to your pay ranges and job descriptions.

Before making an offer to a new hire, look at the pay of people in the role – women and men both – and use that to set the starting salary. The more you rely on facts and data, the less the candidate’s negotiation skills will matter. Some companies set fixed salaries for new hires, for this exact reason.

Pay It Forward

When I’m hiring, I keep fair pay top of mind.

Many of the men I hire are very clear about their value and expected salary – good for them!

Some women are too, but others expect less and would willingly work for a lower rate. They tell me “Pay doesn’t really matter, because I enjoy the work. Pay me what you can.” While I appreciate their passion for the work, it’s up to me to pay everyone equally regardless of what they’d settle for. I consider myself frugal, but cutting corners on salary is not the place to find savings.

Fair and equal pay is good business.

I’d like to leave you with a challenge.

What is one action you can take today to increase gender pay equity?

Maybe it’s time to ask for a raise yourself, or encourage an under-paid colleague to ask for hers. If you’re in a leadership role, conduct an evaluation of your team’s compensation with help from HR. Or, if you suspect there’s a woman on your team who’s underpaid or under-leveled, now is the time to catch her up. Any time you find yourself in a position to champion another woman and make sure she’s fairly compensated.



Mikaela Kiner is an experienced HR/People Operations professional, founder/CEO, and executive coach. In 2015, Kiner founded Reverb, creating a healthy, inclusive culture in startups and growing companies in the Pacific Northwest. A People Operations professional for nearly twenty years, Kiner enjoys coaching leaders at all levels and promoting gender equality at work. She’s been quoted in Fast Company, the Wall Street Journal and The Muse, and is a member of the Forbes Human Resources Council and Puget Sound Business Journal Leadership Trust. A native Seattleite who grew up on Capitol Hill, Kiner is married to Henry, a musician, artist, and teacher. Their two children, Simon and Sidonie, are good at challenging the status quo and are a constant source of learning and laughter.

Connect with Mikaela Kiner on Twitter @MikaelaKiner, Facebook @ReverbPeople, LinkedIn, Instagram @Reverb_people, and visit Female Firebrands: Stories and Techniques to Ignite Change, Take Control, and Succeed in the Workplace is available on Amazon and other retail outlets.


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