Editor’s note: Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson is a regular contributor to WRAL TechWire. His columns appear on Wednesdays.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – March is Women’s History Month, and if you do only one thing to mark the occasion, I hope you’ll conduct a pay equity analysis. What does that mean? In short, it’s a data-finding mission to make sure the women in your organization are being paid the full amount for every dollar men are making. You might think you’re doing well in this space already, but it’s still important to run the data so you can form an objective opinion. 

The hard truth is that most organizations don’t have enough relevant insights into their compensation data to speak objectively about the state of pay equity. At the national level, PayScale indicates in their “State of the Gender Pay Gap 2020” report that women in America are still making only 81 cents for every dollar a man makes, despite achieving more college degrees, and the gap grows even wider and deeper when we look specifically at women of color. 

Photo courtesy of Donald Thompson

Donald Thompson

If you discover that a pay gap exists in your organization, dig deeper to find the root causes — what can be accounted for, and what can’t? Certainly, there will be job and performance-related factors at play, but try to isolate compensation inequities that are not linked to either of those considerations. Where might unconscious bias be raising its head? How can you move forward, even if it’s only incrementally at first, to level the playing field for women employees?

Consider this audit a key starting point for your efforts toward greater diversity, equity, and inclusion. As Human Resource Executive explains, “managing pay equity effectively builds trust in leadership, increases engagement and reduces turnover. Inequities in compensation, on the other hand, can lead to employee dissatisfaction and a higher risk of litigation, union issues and shareholder disapproval.” In other words, an inclusive, equitable culture that values women and pays them fairly will help retain top talent and lead to better business outcomes overall. What we know about women at work is that “company profits and share performance can be close to 50 percent higher when women are well represented at the top [and] beyond that, senior-level women have a vast and meaningful impact on a company’s culture,” says McKinsey.

Yet the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are quickly removing more and more women from the workforce, primarily by removing the social and cultural support networks that usually help to balance work and family. Last fall, McKinsey’s “Women in the Workplace 2020” report showed the incredible toll of pandemic unemployment on women in America, particularly Black women and mothers of young children. Throughout the spring and summer, women left the workforce in record numbers — at four times the rate of men — and by fall, of those who had not been furloughed or laid off, more than one in four women was “contemplating downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely” to meet the demands of childcare, eldercare and other unpaid labor. In December alone, according to CNN, the U.S. economy lost another 140,000 jobs, 100% of which were held by women. These shifts have the potential to quickly upend decades of progress toward women’s equality and gender diversity at work. 

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But, if we can be adaptable and attuned to what women need at work right now, we can help to fight that trend. Certainly, pay equity goes a long way toward acknowledging and valuing women’s achievements at work, but on top of pay equity, it’s important to know what you can do to support women employees as they navigate the new, pandemic economy and unprecedented demands of family and community. As the Center for American Progress reports in “How COVID-19 Sent Women’s Workforce Progress Backward,” “Without both immediate and long-term action to shore up the child care infrastructure and establish more progressive work-family policies, the United States cannot achieve continued economic growth nor protect and advance gender equity.”

What can you do on a personal level to take action that supports women in your workplace?

Start by raising awareness and sharing resources about the pandemic impact on women at work, especially the impact on Black women and mothers. Ask women leaders at all levels in your organization what actions they’d like to see to make your workplace more supportive, and give your employees as much flexibility around work hours, deadlines, and meetings as you can right now. Open and frequent communication makes such a powerful difference in a crisis, so rely on a culture of trust and transparency by encouraging your employees to set healthy boundaries and communicate what they need to be successful. 

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If you want to learn more about how to create an authentic celebration and commemoration of women’s achievements throughout this month, I encourage you to download my team’s Women’s History Month Programming Guide, which lays out actionable steps you can take toward communication, education, public service, and supplier diversity. One great thing about Women’s History Month is that nearly everyone knows at least one woman who inspires them to do and be great, whether that’s a caregiver, daughter, partner, friend, coworker, history-maker, or celebrity. It’s how we, in turn, support those women that shows what Women’s History Month is about. 

About the Author 

Donald Thompson is a serial entrepreneur, public speaker, author, podcaster, and Executive Coach, recently named one of Forbes’ Next 1000: Upstart Entrepreneurs Redefining the American Dream. He is currently the CEO of Walk West, an award winning digital marketing firm, and co-founder and CEO of The Diversity Movement, a technology-driven diversity, equity and inclusion consultancy. He is also a board member for several organizations in healthcare, technology, marketing, sports and entertainment, a Certified Diversity Executive (CDE), and a thought leader on goal achievement and influencing company culture. Connect with Donald through LinkedIn or learn more by visiting donaldthompson.com.