Beyond the gender pay gap: What HR needs to know this Equal Pay Day

As pay transparency legislation picks up steam—and the upcoming March 12 Equal Pay Day shines a light on workplace inequities—organizations nationwide are feeling the pressure to root out the gender pay gap and address systemic issues. However, experts say, employers need to look beyond the hard numbers also to consider what their employees think about how fair—or unfair—the organization’s practices are.

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Because according to a new study by the HRIS platform HiBob, there are some significant discrepancies between how men and women perceive pay and advancement opportunities at their companies. Throughout its 2024 U.S. Women Professionals in the Workplace study of 2,000 full-time workers, HiBob found that men tended to think rewards and opportunities were relatively equitable between the sexes, while women raised significant concerns.

For instance, more than one-third of women surveyed believe that men in the same roles at their organizations make more than they do—while 82% of men think the pay is equal. Likewise, 61% of women report that men and women are promoted equally for the same work, a figure that jumps to 80% for men. Thirty-five percent of women also said men are promoted faster than women, which only 16% of men agreed with.

The study dovetails with another recent worker survey from Monster, which found even starker contrasts. For example, 64% of men said men and women are treated equally at their company, and just 37% of women agreed, while 60% of women and just 12% of men said men get a seat at the proverbial table more than women.

Likewise, when it comes to a gender pay gap, according to Monster, more than 70% of men think pay between the sexes at their company is equal—compared to just 28% of women.

“It’s critical that people feel confident there is gender equity, or at least meaningful efforts being made by your organization to achieve it,” says Annie Rosencrans, HiBob people and culture director. “Balance and fairness are critical to a positive culture, and people that feel supported will be more loyal, engaged and productive by nature.”

Fixing the pay gap—and employee perceptions

HiBob’s study found that the imbalance in perceptions isn’t just about what workers think; the fears about discrepancies do have merit.

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For instance, 17% of men reported receiving a benefits increase last year, compared to just 8% of women. Similarly, the study found that 38% of men surveyed had recently received a promotion, compared to 32% of women.

As the gender pay gap persists—with American women paid just 82 cents for every dollar men make—Rosencrans notes that organizations looking to improve perceptions of equity must first root out actual inconsistencies.

See also: Women have returned to the workforce. Now, how to keep them?

That is among the aims of the growing calls for pay transparency. WTW recently found that 60% of employers are being more transparent about pay with current employees, and nearly half are enhancing transparency for candidates as well.

Rosencrans notes that disclosing salary ranges can inspire confidence in employees in their wage equity—and can emphasize that leadership is committed to eliminating pay gaps.

Annie Rosencrans
Annie Rosencrans, HiBob

“A more transparent salary range can help companies better align with their employees on pay expectations to ensure employees feel valued and fairly compensated for their roles,” she says.

The same approach should be taken around advancement opportunities, Rosencrans adds.

Leadership should share career-pathing and skills-mapping information with all employees, equipping managers to explain the skills and competencies expected for each role. Managers must also be prepared to deliver the constructive feedback employees need to move up.

“Additionally, managers should feel empowered to advocate for promotions or raises for their reports who are ready for the next step,” Rosencrans adds. “Employees need to feel supported and prepared in order to get to the next level, and it makes a huge difference when they have a champion in their corner.”

Beyond embedding equity in pay and promotions—and encouraging managers and leaders to be transparent about such efforts—Rosencrans says organizations can also help level the playing field by tailoring benefits to the needs of their workers. Particularly, a “generous parent leave offering” can enable women—who leave the workforce disproportionately to care for children—to stay invested in their home and work lives without fear of inhibited career growth.

“Encouraging the utilization of these benefits,” Rosencrans adds, “without penalization is crucial.”

According to HiBob’s research, it’s not happening enough. Nearly a quarter of women surveyed said working mothers have fewer opportunities for promotions, and just 60% said their organization encourages workers to use their entire parental leave.

“Today’s workers want to feel that their managers, leaders and HR teams are taking deliberate action to make sure there is equity,” Rosencrans says. “Making sure there is equity among men and women—and being vocal about your commitment to that—is an important step for leaders to take to ensure their workers are happy and feel seen and heard.”

Learn how organizations are addressing gender inequities in the workplace at HRE‘s upcoming EPIC Conference, April 24-26 in Las Vegas, including at the “Retaining and Supporting Working Parents” session. Register here.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].