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Why we adjusted salaries for all traditionally female-dominated roles at our company

Unito’s CFO explains the company’s radical approach to fixing its pay gap, including building a transparent matrix, so everyone knows exactly what their coworkers make.

Why we adjusted salaries for all traditionally female-dominated roles at our company
[Source images: syntika/iStock; vladwel/IStock]
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Is there gender- or race-based salary disparity in your company? If you don’t know the answer, then it’s surely “yes.” Combatting disparity requires an active effort on the part of your entire organization. It’s something you would know about.

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According to PayScale, women make 81 cents for every dollar earned by men. Black women make 75 cents for every dollar earned by white men. Even when adjusted to people with the same qualifications and the same job, women and people of color still get paid less than men. 

This should bother you. It boils my blood. And that’s why at Unito we’ve committed to combating salary disparity within our company. It’s something that every member of our team is a part of.

How do we push this change? Our efforts stand on two key pillars: transparency and data. 

SALARY TRANSPARENCY BUILDS EQUALITY

Everybody who works at Unito knows exactly how much their colleagues make. We built a transparent salary matrix that lists salaries by department, role, and seniority. It includes commission structures for customer-facing teams, and potential salary growth increases associated with company milestones.

This matrix relies on a system of levels associated with specific skills. For instance, a level 2 marketer has a clearly defined set of skills and expectations. A level 3 marketer has a wider set, and a higher salary to match. 

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Negotiation tends to favor certain groups over others, only widening the wage gap.

Unito has aimed to be a transparent company from its founding, so keeping salaries transparent fits our culture. People across the company are used to this, and it’s a great basis for our approach to conversations about raises and promotions. They should be regular, low-pressure, check-ins about progress, rather than expecting someone to fight for their raise. Transparent salaries are also a great selling point with prospective candidates.

Having this matrix has also allowed us to eliminate salary negotiations, which is important as negotiation tends to favor certain groups over others, only widening the wage gap

When you apply to our company, you will be told during the interview process what salary you’ll be offered based on your role and skill set. There’s no wiggle room and no negotiation, because every other employee with those skills in that role gets paid exactly the same amount.

Some might find this harsh or restrictive, but it’s a fundamental tool for fighting back against disparity. Every person, regardless of sex, gender, race, or age, is paid the same amount when they occupy the same role, as determined by their skills. And this isn’t a tool for restricting possible income, but for promoting and fast-tracking growth.

HOW DATA CAN FIGHT BACK AGAINST INTERNAL BIAS

While our transparent salary matrix ensures that everybody in the same role is on a level playing field, we also need to make sure our own biases don’t leak into the baseline salaries we set.

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For that reason, we rely heavily on external data sources to determine the salaries at each level of the matrix. First, there’s Option Impact, a startup compensation data tool which provides salary insights from over 2,000 companies. Then there’s Radford from Aon, which provides compensation benchmarking data for specific industries. (We use their pre-IPO technology survey data.) 

Using these sources, we identify average salaries for each specific role, skill set, and level. Then we set salaries at a percentile of that average and adjust it for Canada, where all of our employees are based. 

This is a lot of technical detail, but it basically means that no one arbitrarily decides salaries. The same formula is applied to every role in the company, ensuring an even income playing field.

ADJUSTING SALARIES FOR TRADITIONALLY FEMALE-DOMINATED ROLES

There is one inherent flaw in only using these data sources when setting salaries: They reflect industry-wide salary patterns which we know are influenced by industry-wide biases. If there’s a salary disparity in the industry, the average salaries will reflect that disparity. 

We took a look at roles in the technology industry that are occupied by at least 70% women. These female-dominated roles—like human resources, design, and customer support—tend to have the lowest average salaries. By paying them at the same percentile as all our other internal roles, we were continuing the trend of underpaying specific jobs that are most often occupied by women. So, we thought, how do we fix this?

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We made the decision to increase the percentile at which we set our base salaries for these specific roles. We applied this to all non-management levels because, even in female-dominated roles, men have traditionally dominated management positions and the salaries reflect that. 

This isn’t something many businesses have done. We had to find the right approach for our company at this time, and a percentile increase just fit. But you might find another approach more suited to your own situation.

And the outcome? This adjustment increased the baseline pay in those female-dominated roles by 3.7%. While that number might seem small, it means greater salary growth at each subsequent level up, which flattened the difference in long-term earning potential between our male and female employees.  

TRANSPARENCY ALSO SUPPORTS EQUAL GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES 

For every 100 men hired to a manager position, American businesses hire only 72 women, and even fewer women of color. Unconscious bias plays a significant role in these hiring decisions, as do negotiations. Women push for promotions far less often than men, both because they undervalue themselves and because they suffer negative repercussions for doing so.

We want our employees to know exactly what they need to do to advance internally.

To combat this inequality, we built a level-up guide to compliment our salary matrix. This guide acts as a map, outlining in great detail the skills needed for each level of each role. 

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We want our employees to know exactly what they need to do to advance internally. That way, when they enter a conversation with their manager about a promotion, they’re doing so knowing exactly what skills are required at that next level. 

Plus, our managers are asked to start level-up conversations with their reports on a set, regular cadence, which removes the pressure on women and minorities to kick off that discussion themselves. 

SALARY DISPARITY WON’T GO AWAY ON ITS OWN

While the wage gap is closing, salary disparity requires an active effort from companies to combat. By making your salaries transparent and removing internal and external biases from the equation, you can make significant leaps toward a more equal work environment for all employees. 


Marie-Rose Rioux M. is Unito’s CFO and VP of business operations. With over 15 years of experience, both in start-ups and large companies, she leads multiple teams under the business operations roof. Her true calling is with the tech start-up scene, and she thrives when part of a dynamic, agile leadership team.