Let’s Take Salary Discussions Out of the Closet

Look. I love animals as much as the next person. But the recent news that Denver’s basketball mascot, Rocky the Mountain Lion, is paid $625,000 a year really threw me. Atlanta’s alliterative Harry the Hawk gets $600,000. There are more. Benny the Bull. Go the Gorilla.

When I saw the news, I jumped out of my office chair. Scaring the heck out of Cleopatra the Courage Cat in the process. (Not an easy feat.)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all over the cute names. What I’m struggling with is the idea that these booty shaking stuffed animals are paid more than twice the salary of our highest paid, highest scoring, professional women athletes. And many of the highly skilled professional women executives I know as well.

“He just gives off a lot of energy. He makes the half-court shots … um … at a really good rate,” said Nuggets Point Guard Jamal Murray, whose 2022 salary was … um … $29.4 million USD. 

He just has a lot of energy and is okay at his job

It’s almost 2023. We’re nodding our heads at paying costumed male cheerleaders twice what professional women athletes make. Yet women in every industry still have to fight for the titles and pay their male counterparts are given automatically. 

We can’t wait any longer for “the system” to change. If the Mr. Murrays of this world can’t see the absurdity of their justifications, we have to show them. We have to decide to “be the change” that replaces financial discrimination with fair pay. 

The good news is, some states are moving forward with pay range reporting laws. And people are starting to talk online about their titles and salaries and push for true pay transparency. I know! It’s so sensible. So Norwegian. They’re posting what their titles, responsibilities, and pay packages are so everyone can see the disparities.

Kudos to the astute TikTokkers who started this. Let’s keep it going! While the influencers work their magic on social media, the rest of us can step up and do some influencing in our roles as well. 

Here’s what executives can do about unfair pay

Even if you think pay in your organization is already pretty fair. Even if you think mascots are super high value and nothing needs to change. But especially if you think changing your organization’s compensation protocols would be disruptive, take some time to look into the status quo. 

Why? Because making compensation fair within an organization is easier for executives than it is for individual contributors. And, frankly, as one of your organization’s top leaders, you should know these facts. 

The first step is to ask Human Resources for the organization’s raw compensation numbers, per person, per level, by gender. Second – and this is important – look for inconsistencies in people’s titles. That’s one of the places we get into trouble. The issue of unequal pay is frequently hidden by unequal titles for equal work. Titles should accurately reflect the work people are doing. 

EXAMPLE: A man and a woman are both account reps. They have the same level of responsibility. They get the same or similar results. Yet he’s a vice president and she’s still a director, or worse, a manager. 

Bump her up. Two title levels if you have to. Then, make the salaries commensurate. Lopsided titles and unfair pay packages are hard to “unsee” once you’ve looked at them in the light of day. Compensating men and women equally, righting those wrongs, is what Courageous Leaders do.

What individual contributors can do about unfair pay

As an individual contributor or line manager, what can you do to make sure you’re being paid fairly? First, you can ask Human Resources what the salary band is for your role and take a look at where you fall within that band. You have a legal right to see this information, so that part should be fairly simple. 

Second, you can tap outside sources. Call some recruiters. Look on Glassdoor, Salary.com, PayScale.com, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, etc. Talk to friends and acquaintances in similar roles elsewhere. You’re likely to get a variety of answers, but a salary range should surface.

Third, build a clean, factual, specific case for the value you bring to your organization and why you deserve to be paid appropriately. Guys (and mascots) don’t have to do this exercise but, most women do. If you stick to facts, there’s no downside … even if the answer is “no.” Most employers will respect you more for standing up for yourself. And, remember, sometimes a “no” is just the first step toward a “yes.” It plants the seed and seeds grow.

Here’s how we can ALL break the unfair pay habit

Lobby for our organizations to practice true compensation transparency. Norway does this. Whole Foods does it. Publicly traded companies have to publish the pay packages of their executives. HBR has a great article about how to make it work.

And, let’s be honest, a lot of managers and human resources people see compensation figures as a normal, everyday part of their jobs. I’m willing to bet you know what one or two of your coworkers make. If most of the people already know, why keep a select few in the dark? If we’re paying each other fairly, true pay transparency shouldn’t be a big deal. 

WHAT’S NEXT? Right now, at Cindy Solomon & Associates, we are deep diving into the courageous steps needed to win with pay transparency. If you’re an executive or leader seeking guidance in how to establish fair protocols for titles and compensation packages, go to www.courageousleadershipinstitute.com to grab a webinar, workshop, or keynote customized to your organization’s specific needs. 

Signature of Cindy Solomon, Courageous Leadership expert and keynote speaker

Cindy Solomon is CEO of the Courageous Leadership Institute, a thriving leadership and customer experience training organization with access to up-to-the-minute insights on how today’s most innovative corporations are defining the future of leadership. Learn more at www.CourageousLeadershipInstitute.com.

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