Do You Know How To Recognize The Early Signs Of Inequity?

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How To Spot The Early Signs of Intersectional Gender Inequity


What’s the best way to deal with intersectional gender inequality in the workplace?


In 2018, more CEOs were dismissed for misconduct and ethical lapses (e.g. sexual harassment) than for financial performance or board struggles. In PwC’s 19-year history of researching CEO success, this was the first time bad behavior overtook financial performance as the main reason for executive departures.

Dismissing a CEO (or any employee) post-offense is one way to deal with an inequity. But, and this gets to your question—wouldn’t it be better NOT to have to deal with inequity in the first place? Wouldn’t it be better to install systems that can detect and mitigate inequity in its earliest stages?

The best way to “deal” with inequity in the workplace is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. It’s about moving from reactive DEI to proactive DEI, which is easier said than done.

Reactive DEI vs. Proactive DEI

Many organizations struggle with proactive DEI because it requires upstream—as opposed to downstream—resource mobilization.

Upstream resource mobilization presents a unique set of challenges. For instance:

  1. It’s difficult to identify issues upstream because, by definition, these issues are still small and haven’t snowballed into bigger problems (yet).
  2. Delegating responsibility to manage upstream issues threatens the status quo. Why should I take ownership of a problem that doesn’t affect me or that I can’t see?
  3. Resource scarcity tricks us into believing quick fixes in the short term are better than systemic improvements in the long term.

The intersectional gender pay gap provides a clear example of the need for proactive/upstream DEI solutions. 

To End Pay Inequity, Look Upstream

Pay is the quantitative value companies place on their talent. Evaluations of employee performance and potential represent their real value to the organization. These evaluations of employee performance and potential are inputs to determining pay.

So if we want to close the intersectional gender pay gap, we need to look upstream—at the inputs—and ask ourselves: 

  • Are the inputs to pay equitable? Yes or no.
  • Are the inputs to pay free of bias? Yes or no.
  • If no, where are the equity gaps located? In which departments, seniority levels, protected status cohorts, etc.
  • What is driving these equity gaps? Oftentimes, it’s unconscious bias.
  • How can we close these gaps so that they don’t compromise decisions on employee pay and promotion?

Looking upstream force-functions us to take a proactive approach to DEI. Instead of turning off the fire alarm, we’re turning back the clock to prevent the fire from ever starting.

How To Practice Proactive DEI Thinking

Here’s a mini exercise you can do right now to practice proactive DEI thinking:

  1. Identify one example of inequity within your organization.
  2. Reverse engineer the inequity until you identify its root causes. (Causes, plural, because many factors influence systemic issues such an inequity.)
  3. What are some possible solutions to address the root causes?
  4. How would you scale this solution across the entire organization?

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