Creative puts its money where its mouth is on pay equity

By Rebecca Sewall

June 6, 2019   |   0 comments

How banning salary history promotes genuine diversity and gender equality

I was shocked.  At the recent Women Innovators & Leaders Network: A Forum to Advance Women’s Leadership in the Global Development Sector (WILD) conference, a host of development agencies presented what they were doing to promote greater gender equality and diversity in the workplace.

Their solutions ranged from having employee resource groups to family-friendly policies.  While better than nothing, to me these efforts fell far short of the mark, particularly given the theme of this year’s conference was “Greater Diversity = Greater Impact.” Not one of the development agencies mentioned the most fundamental issue that continues to plague genuine diversity and gender equality: pay equity.   

“The single most important action an employer can take to promote meaningful diversity is to pay employees by job function, not by their salary histories.”

Despite their good intentions, employee resource groups and family-friendly policies do not mask the fact that development organizations – agencies that purport to value gender equality and diversity among their headquarters staff and programs – use potential employees’ salary histories to establish their offering price.  

As women and minorities tend to earn less than their white, male counterparts (even while performing the same job) this perpetuates and reinforces pay inequalities based on race and gender.  The single most important action an employer can take to promote meaningful diversity is to pay employees by job function, not by their salary histories. 

In August 2016, Massachusetts passed a law that requires employers to provide equal pay for equal work by prohibiting them from asking applicants their salary history. New York City was quick to follow suit.  To date, 17 states and 14 localities have enacted similar laws. The District of Columbia is sadly slow on the draw.

Fortunately, Creative Associates International decided it was not going to wait for the law to change.

For Creative, this is an issue of principle that has been baked into the organization’s DNA since its founding by four enterprising women of diverse backgrounds in 1977.  Today, Creative is an industry leader in eliminating the potential for inequitable compensation based on salary history once and for all.  It meaningfully advances diversity by using job function to determine employee’s salaries rather than basing them on historic gender or racial inequities.  Its decision to do so has made it an industry game-changer.

Ingrid Fitzgerald, Senior Director of Human Resources, turned this vision into reality at Creative.

“Not only did we not want to perpetuate inequalities, we also wanted to attract the very best talent,” Fitzgerald says. “We are looking forward to USAID changing its biodata forms so we can do the same in our field offices.”

Creative has set a new voluntary standard in the sector and now challenges other development organizations to do the same.

For me, having spent my entire career working to promote gender equality and social inclusion in development agencies, I’ve seen firsthand that the issue of pay equity reflects how an organization values the principles of equality and inclusion. It also reflects how an organization values gender and social inclusion.

If organizations are not serious about pay equity among their HQ staff, or do not pay their gender and social inclusion staff what they pay other technical advisors, how can they claim to be serious about advancing these same values in their programming?

Rebecca Sewall

I wanted to work in an organization that was authentically diverse; where my skills as a Gender and Social Inclusion Advisor were valued, and where the organization made gender and social inclusion a top priority both at HQ and in the field.  It was also important to me that I work in an organization where the “bottom line” did not depend on maintaining historic racial and gender inequities.

In short, I wanted to work for a development organization that was willing to put its money where its mouth is.   

Rebecca Sewall is the Senior Advisor for Gender & Social Inclusion at Creative Associates International.

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