In March 2018, Allyson Felix decided to do what some consider “the kiss of death” for a professional female athlete.
She got pregnant.
As she disclosed in a New York Times op-ed, Felix, who held six Olympic gold medals at the time, was in the middle of contract renewal negotiations with Nike when she chose to have a baby. Nike’s next sponsorship offer came in 70% lower than her previous package.
The athletic shoe and apparel company has since revised their maternity policy for sponsored athletes.
However, that move came too late for Felix. She left Nike for a sponsorship deal with Athleta, a women-focused apparel company. Eight months after delivering a baby girl by emergency C-section, Allyson Felix won a gold medal and a bronze in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
Felix surpassed sprinter Carl Lewis as the most decorated U.S. track athlete in Olympic history…earning her a place in Women’s History.
Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978, prohibiting sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and natal related medical conditions. But just because the law says pregnancy discrimination is forbidden in HR practices, that doesn’t completely eliminate the attitudinal barriers women of childbearing age (and any age) must overcome to find parity in wages and opportunities for advancement.
“Boy, I’d like to offer her that job,” one manager might whisper to another, “but did you know that she has five kids? She’s a single mom.”
The greatest disservice a hiring manager could make in this hypothetical situation would be to draw a conclusion for the woman and exclude her without letting her decide to take the position or not. It’s not up to a business to tell employees how to lead their lives, but it is mandatory that businesses be equitable and give their talent choices on career moves.
Back to the single mom of five: She may decide she can only give 40 hours a week and no travel, so she would forego the vice president opportunity. On the other hand, she may have family nearby or the resources to hire a full-time nanny. HR doesn’t know and must not assume before a conversation can be had about the work-life logistics of any employee.
Many years ago, I interned at UnitedHealth. One co-worker was nearing her due date and announced she would be delivering by a planned C-section over the weekend.
“That’s awesome. Who’s going to do your work while you’re gone?” I asked.
She replied, “I’ll be back in a few days.”
I made the assumption that she would be handing her work off for 12 weeks of FMLA. Her plan was to heal and return to work as soon as her doctor cleared her. It’s interesting how we instantly think our co-worker should handle life situations the way we would choose to do it.
CLOSING THE PAY GAP
Measures taken by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have made good strides in closing the pay gap for U.S. women in this generation. In 1980, the median income for women was 60% of their male counterparts. The latest figures show women still earn 84 cents on the dollar, when compared to men’s annual wages. This is unacceptable.
According to the latest numbers gathered by the global watchdog group for socio-economic issues, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), salaries for women of color under-indexed in the U.S. during the same timeframe. Black women earned 64 cents, and Latinas earned 57 cents in 2020. These figures are unacceptable and hit home, as two-thirds of our executive coaching clients at inclineHR are female and/or diverse.
When you start with a base salary that is lagging your white male co-worker by a large margin, it is nearly impossible to catch up; the pay gap extrapolated over a 40-year career is staggering. Latinas can be paid more than a million dollars less than their co-workers over a lifetime!
Look at wages for highly feminized occupations (i.e.: nursing, teaching, hospitality), and they almost defy the laws of basic economics. There has never been a higher demand for nurses in America. Yet, this fact hasn’t materially impacted nurses’ wages, other than perhaps a sign-on bonus.
EVALUATING EMPLOYEES DIFFERENTLY
After 24 months of COVID protocols, workers everywhere have a new view of work-life balance. Mothers, especially, have grown accustomed to moving seamlessly between professional duties and caregiving activities while working from home these past two years. Savvy employers will retain their best female talent when they shift the evaluation process away from activity – attendance, punctuality, visibility, and relationship-building – and more toward outcomes.
Get creative with job sharing, flexible hours, and telecommuting in order to reframe work into something that meets the needs of the worker. The payoff will be two-fold, loyalty and productivity.
Gallup estimates the “cost of replacing an individual employee can range from one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary.” It’s much more efficient to listen and cooperate with employees’ concerns about commute times to the office when they could be just as effective Zooming from home.
Organizations can sometimes get 40 hours-worth of output from an individual who’s only working 20 hours. They’re rested. They’re less frustrated and distracted. They can be laser focused when they know there’s only a set amount of time to complete a project.
Flexible working arrangements also mean less opportunities for relationship building, for better or worse. There’s a lot less brown-nosing and huddling in cliques for the ones who rely on office politics to gain an advantage. Maybe a decentralized workforce will lead to an end to the “good old boy” networks. Who knows?
With less water cooler engagement to sway opinions, the objective assessment of measurable outcomes can give evidence to an employee’s value to the company – whether male or female.
WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH
Since 1987, the U.S. has formally recognized March as National Women’s History Month by celebrating contributions of women in our history, society, and culture. At inclineHR, we believe salary parity for women with provisions for maternity and childcare demands are the next logical steps.
If you’re a woman ready to break the glass ceiling, we’re ready to explore ways to advocate for you. Contact us.
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