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In early 2019, Citigroup — with strong encouragement from activist Natasha Lamb at Arjuna Capital — offered a blunt assessment of its gender pay gap. One of the world’s largest banking groups, Citigroup revealed that its female employees earn 29% less than men performing similar work.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg News — which covered the Citigroup story — released a list of 230 companies committed to gender equality in the workplace. Guess who showed up on the list of companies performing well?
How can a company be lauded for its advancement of women and, at the same time, reveal a significant gender pay gap?
The news reveals how measuring and achieving pay equity can be tricky. It also provides a moment to pause and reflect on pay transparency.
Some companies have made public proclamations about their pay equity. Others are beginning to take steps toward achieving pay equity but are keeping their efforts under wraps. The fear of finding problems is enough for well-meaning lawyers to advise against any public statements or even discuss efforts among employees. And far too many other companies have remained completely silent on the issue, adopting a head-in-the-sand approach and hoping the pay equity movement will quietly pass.
The truth is that resolving pay disparities due to gender or race is a completely solvable problem. And yet, the problem persists. As a CEO and mother of four daughters, this is both troubling and encouraging.
To move toward lasting change, we must push forward a new approach, leverage technology and applaud transparency, even when it reveals disparities. Addressing pay inequality requires leadership commitment. When a leader commits to analyzing pay, they must have the confidence and courage to know that, in most cases, the company will find at least some areas of inequity.
Employees don’t expect perfection, but they deserve transparency. The most effective approach a company can take when addressing the pay gap is to say openly to its people, “We are committed to pay equity and, as part of this commitment, we will regularly analyze our pay and we will be transparent with you about the results.”
Many critics may now rush to shame Citigroup for paying women less than men. And there’s no question that Citigroup has much work to do. But anyone expecting a company the size and scale of Citigroup to lack pay equity issues is simply disconnected from the reality of pay and gender today. We should laud Citigroup’s decision to share this information with its people and shareholders. The first step toward solving a problem is acknowledging that it exists. Only then can solutions follow.
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