Equal Pay for Equal Work: Why a Simple Concept is Not So Simple

A Dallas physician recently apologized for stating that female doctors are not paid as much as male doctors because female doctors don’t work as hard. The medical community expressed outrage at the initial comment but has since accepted the doctor’s mea culpa. A gross generalization based on gender is, quite frankly, gross. But if management and employees dig deeper and have real discussions about pay inequality, they may find gender is only part of the equation.

The doctor had alleged that women physicians don’t see as many patients. He implied this may be due to family obligations, a desire to spend more quality time with each patient, or simply a lack of drive. If it is true that a doctor, regardless of gender, sees fewer patients in a day than a similar colleague, it could be possible that this particular doctor does not generate as much revenue as others. Professionals from other industries could make a case for dollars in and dollars out based on quantity, productivity, and overall revenue generation abilities. Still, hours worked do not represent results. A doctor could save a life in a matter of minutes. A lawyer can win a case because of strategy rather than hours billed. It is difficult to assign dollars to tasks and compensation is rarely an objective science.

There are many examples of injustice in wages. Think for a moment about the most underpaid segment of society: teachers. Some states give bonuses to teachers whose students score better on standardized tests, but the scores do not consider intangibles such as the students’ socioeconomic background, starting competencies, and how the particular students felt the day of the test. It is possible great teachers have students who did not do as well on the tests as expected.

Unfortunately, gender generalizations often stem from the belief that women work fewer hours than men because of family obligations. If that reflects reality, the recent rise of the single, childless, female employee during the last two decades should have helped balance the pay scales, but as Salesforce Chief Executive Officer Marc Benioff discovered in an audit of his own company, that is not the case. The audit revealed male employees doing the same work at the same level were paid more. He told the press that the disparity was across all divisions, departments, and geographies.

While paychecks reveal the finite dollars bestowed to different genders, there are a few concepts that can help bolster objectivity:

  1. Employees should be evaluated on their skills. While this is a subjective area, criteria can be established that objectively detail the kinds of talents and experience that most benefit an organization.
  2. A top-notch proofreader will not be compensated as much as a computer coder within the same company because the demand for coding talent is fierce. When certain skills are scarce, talent, regardless of gender, will dictate pay.
  3. Contribution: Innovation, strategy, and adding to the bottom line through profits or efficiencies make an impact and must influence pay.

As companies watch the increase in discrimination claims, they would be wise to seek out assistance in developing fair policies for all genders within their workforce.