How to factor all genders into pay equity discussions

As pay transparency efforts gain momentum across the country, pay equity discourse doesn’t always look at the whole picture, experts told HR Dive. 

Generally, discussions about pay equity focus on the gender pay gap between men and women but fail to consider those who identify as nonbinary or to address intersectionality, Sarah Reynolds, chief marketing officer for HiBob, a people management platform, said. 

“I’m nonbinary. My pronouns are they and them. Oftentimes, I see a male-female split, and I wonder where I am. Did I get counted? Did I not get counted?” Reynolds said. 

Very few companies collect gender data beyond male and female, said Mariann Madden, WTW’s North America pay equity co-lead. Only some provide a nonbinary option and those that try to do so can be unsuccessful when employees don’t trust how that data will be used, she said. 

“It’s just unfortunate because it’s not something that a lot of companies that I work with are compiling,” Madden said. “I would assume those organizations that are moving to start collecting the nonbinary information, they have a very strong [diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging] initiative or strategy.” 

In many cases, employers collect limited gender information upon hire or during the onboarding process, and few revisit it later to gain a greater understanding, Madden said. That leaves companies with very little data to use to determine what kind of pay inequities exist, and what data they may have is “potentially going to be skewed because of the small sample size,” she said. 

“The risk is that potentially there are unintended pay gaps happening, but you don’t know because you’re unable to identify those,” Madden said. 

Companies can take steps to collect gender information by building trust through transparency and being intentional about their efforts, Reynolds said. For example, a company asking workers to self-identify should share exactly how that information will be used, they said. And demographic information can be collected during onboarding in an inclusive way, Reynolds said, by allowing workers to share how they want to be perceived and then cataloging that information in a way it can be used and revisited.

“The reality is that organizations do not create the type of trusting relationships with employees that makes employees, especially employees who are members of traditionally marginalized communities, feel super comfortable about doing what we call self-ID, which means ‘I’m going to tell the organization that I identify as queer, nonbinary and disabled,’ like I do, and they’re going to log that in my employee profile in a system,” Reynolds said. 

Organizations don’t really explain to employees why they are asking those questions, what they are going to do with the information, who’s going to have access to it, where it’s going to be stored or how it is going to be kept secure, they said.

Employers also can collect data on an anonymous basis through engagement surveys, they said. By asking workers basic demographic information about whether they identify as LGBTQIA+, as disabled or as BIPOC, companies can better “understand the real employee experience” and the intersectional identities within the organization, Reynolds said. Companies can even get at pay equity by asking workers if they feel like they’re being paid fairly, they said. 

Even small amounts of data on workers’ demographics can be significant in affecting change, Reynolds said. A company that found out 50% of its workers identify as LGBTQIA+, for example, likely would rethink the queer community as a minority of its workforce and make decisions differently at the executive level, they said. 

“This is one area where sunlight is absolutely the best disinfectant. If you can get data even for a small representative population on how you are paying people, how they feel about their pay or the pay versus the market, suddenly you can start to understand ‘how big is my challenge?’” Reynolds said.