So, you’re going back to work.
Maybe you left work to educate your kids during the pandemic. Maybe you got laid off. Or you had to stay home to care for a family member. Whatever the reason, the world is starting to open up and you’re looking for a job.
You’re not alone—2.3 million women left the workforce from February 2020 to early 2021, and women’s labor force participation (the percentage of women working or seeking work) is still the lowest it’s been since 1988. That suggests a lot of women are sitting on the sidelines when it comes to looking for work again and we won’t know for some time the full impact of the pandemic on women’s employment.
The rebounding job market and available vaccines may be enticing you to reenter the workforce. But returning to work post-pandemic can feel daunting. According to a recent survey conducted by Syndio, nearly 30% of people who left the workforce during COVID expect they’ll make less than they did before. We know women, in particular, get dinged on pay and promotion opportunities when they take maternity leave. What will this “pandemic leave” mean?
Data show the pandemic has set women back. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic has added 36 years to the global gender gap. This is a defining moment that will set the direction for equal pay moving forward—both for women and for companies committed to achieving pay equity because it’s the right thing to do. Without a renewed commitment, we are at risk of eroding all the incremental progress we’ve made over the past decade.
The moment of hire defines an employee’s pay equity journey. If a woman isn’t paid fairly from day one (compared to her peers doing similar work), it’s likely she’ll never catch up. Every time there is a review or promotion cycle, her pay will slip farther from that of her colleagues who have similar job responsibilities.
As a job seeker, you want equal pay. And you’re not the only one who shares that goal. Current employees, investors, and consumers also want to align themselves with companies that stand for—and put action behind—fair pay. That’s why companies that care about hiring and retaining top talent are taking pay equity seriously.
Here’s what you need to know to help you find a company committed to paying you fairly.
How companies set starting pay for new hires
It’s important to understand the factors that companies committed to pay equity are considering when they set compensation. First, there’s market pay. Companies typically have databases, often aggregated by outside firms, that tell them what the typical pay for a certain position is in a specific market. There are several companies that offer calculators to help.
Second, is the internal pay structure: how employees in different roles, with different skills and experience, are compensated. Pay equity is being paid equally for equal work compared to others within your company, regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity.
Companies leading the way on pay equity will have pay policies that are consistent across the organization and clearly defined so everyone at the company, from employees to managers to executives, understands how the company determines pay. Some companies are transparent about their pay, disclosing ranges for certain job titles or levels. others are less so. We’re starting to see that change as more organizations realize the value of being more transparent about fair pay. There are now tools for this, as well, such as Syndio’s recent release of the Pay Finder software, which helps companies set fair starting pay.
It’s important that as a job seeker, you ask questions to understand the company’s specific policies to ensure you are paid fairly. Legally, companies cannot pay you less for the same work as your peers, because of your gender.
Know that companies committed to pay equity are looking at both of these factors: external, competitive market pay and internal pay policies and data. After all, industry benchmarks are meaningless if the company lacks insight into whether you will be paid fairly compared to colleagues in your company.
As the economy bounces back and hiring accelerates, companies that ensure hiring managers are able to make pay decisions based on consistent, accurate data and established, agreed-upon policies will be the ones able to achieve pay equity—and attract top talent. This approach will also minimize (and even eliminate) the chance of hiring managers consciously or unconsciously penalizing new hires for time away from the workplace. By relying on data to set pay rather than discretion, companies can significantly reduce bias and safeguard their pay equity.
Equal pay tips for job seekers
As a job seeker, you want to find work with a company that is serious about equal pay. But how will you know that’s the case? Here are some tips to help you navigate your conversation about starting salary and compensation.
Previous salary: In some states, it’s illegal for employers to ask about your previous salary. That’s because paying an employee based on what they were paid at their last job can continue cycles of discrimination. So what to say? If a recruiter asks—either at the beginning or the end of the interview process—you can respond with: “I’d prefer to focus on the value I can bring to this company versus what I was paid at my last job.”
Salary expectations: Similarly, if they ask about your salary expectations, it’s okay to say, “I’d like to know the range you pay people who do this type of job.” This will help you suss out whether the company focuses on pay equity. If they do, they will be equipped to readily answer your question.
Impact of planned or unplanned leave on pay: It’s also reasonable to ask if your payment will be impacted by your pandemic leave. The answer should be no. As long as your skills are up-to-date, you should not be penalized.
While it’s not your responsibility as a job seeker to ensure you’re being paid fairly, understanding the factors that go into an employer’s decision about pay can help you make an informed decision about where you want to work and where you will be most valued.
Maria Colacurcio is the CEO of Syndio.