Would you take a 16% pay cut tomorrow based on your eye color or whether you were right- or left-handed? I can imagine your response would be along these lines, “No way, this has nothing to do with my talents or skills.”

It would be unfair to ask you to accept 16% less based on something you can’t help, but that is exactly what the typical woman makes working full-time versus White men in today’s marketplace. And, according to Chabeli Carrazana, from the independent, nonprofit newsroom The 19th, “If part-time workers are included, the gap widens further, with women earning 78 cents on the man’s $1 because they are the ones more likely to be working low-paid, part-time jobs.”

So, the call to action is direct – if you’re a male leader and you aren’t visibly working to promote women leaders wherever you can, then you’re simply not doing good enough. As an initial step, take a look at the free “Women’s History Month Programming Guide” The Diversity Movement created to help organizations and leaders better commemorate women’s stories and celebrate their achievements.

Women leaders: A strategic investment for success

As the father of three daughters and the husband of a strong woman leader, the pay equity gap is something I have witnessed firsthand. As a business executive, one of my primary goals in co-founding The Diversity Movement was to identify, promote and support women leaders. I am proud to say that TDM is a women-led organization.

If authentic change is going to be made, however, we need more male senior executives in every industry and every size of organization to champion the cause. And, our efforts must also go beyond the wage gap and align with business objectives for those naysayers who don’t want to see change. So, for those leaders who still lag behind, I say that promoting and paying women leaders what they’ve rightly earned is a strategic move that benefits businesses and society.

The current figures paint a stark reality – the underrepresentation of women, particularly women of color, in leadership positions is not just a diversity issue, it’s a missed business opportunity. In the United States, for example, women constitute 47% of the labor force, but hold only 41% of management roles and a mere 31% of senior leadership positions. This gap intensifies when we consider race and ethnicity, with Latina (63 cents per dollar), Black (68 cents per dollar) and Asian women facing significantly lower representation and an even steeper wage gap.

Globally the reality is even starker. According to the United Nations group UN Women, “Women only make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. As a result, there’s a lifetime of income inequality between men and women and more women are retiring into poverty.” A deeper look into the consequences of inequity reveals that 1 in every 10 women in the world lives in “extreme poverty.”

Take action: A C-suite cheat code for change

I’ve seen the power of women leaders on the boards I sit on and in my daily work with the outstanding team at TDM. My experiences are in step with research that proves the point. Women leaders immediately strengthen organizations.

The Peterson Institute for International Economics, for example, concluded, “Companies with women in leadership positions are more profitable than those without.” Furthermore, a McKinsey study revealed that women leaders create higher employee retention, increased engagement and productivity.

Let’s look at some ways to close the gap in your workplace and the efforts you can take right now, which requires decisive action from senior leaders. Here’s a cheat code for the C-suite to immediately address pay equity:

Pay Equity Analysis: Don’t rely on assumptions and don’t risk violating the Equal Pay Act, which prohibits wage discrimination based on gender. Mitigate the reputational and legal risk by conducting a thorough analysis of your organization’s pay structure. As a leader, demonstrating your support is essential. Objectivity and data backing decision-making are key in identifying and rectifying disparities.

Identify Pain Points and Roadblocks: Data will provide insights, but delve deeper to uncover the underlying causes of pay inequity. It might be performance-related, but it could also be rooted in unconscious biases. Identifying these obstacles is the first step in dismantling them.

Advocate Loudly: There are many skills C-suite leaders have and energizing people around important issues is one of them. Make pay equity a priority. Signal its importance by initiating conversations within your leadership team or board of directors. Personal actions in support of women in the workplace speak louder than words. And, you can also advocate loudly across social media, in the media and other places where your privilege has given you a megaphone.

Question Assumptions: Talk to women leaders inside your organization and those outside to gain a new perspective of their needs and expectations. Challenge assumptions about work policies related to remote or hybrid work, work hours and paid time off. Tailor policies to support women leaders, especially those juggling additional responsibilities as partners or caregivers.

Here’s what I know: no one can do this important work alone, but it must begin today and be given the significance it deserves. Doing the right thing is always worthwhile, but closing the pay gap is more than a moral obligation, it’s an investment in a more equitable and just workplace. And, we have plenty of research and anecdotal evidence to support the certain payoff your organization will achieve as a result.

It’s not enough to celebrate Women’s History Month. Instead, remember that it is our personal and professional support for the women in our lives that defines the true meaning of Women’s History.

For more guidance on diversity-related holidays and celebrations all year round, explore TDM’s Diversity Holidays Toolkit. With ready-to-go content curated by our DEI experts, the toolkit helps your organization connect holidays and observances to your organization’s DEI strategy. For more on inclusive leadership, pre-order my next book, The Inclusive Leadership Handbook: Balancing People and Performance for Sustainable Growth (co-authored with Kurt Merriweather).

About Donald Thompson

Donald Thompson, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2023 SE Award winner, founded The Diversity Movement (TDM) to fundamentally transform the modern workplace through diversity-led culture change. TDM was recently acquired by Workplace Options, which brings holistic wellbeing services to more than 80 million people in more than 200 countries and territories across the globe. Recognized by Inc., Fast Company and Forbes, Thompson is author of Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success, hosts the podcast “High Octane Leadership in an Empathetic World” and has published widely on leadership and the executive mindset. As a leadership and executive coach, Thompson has created a culture-centric ethos for winning in the marketplace by balancing empathy and economics.

Follow him on LinkedIn for updates on news, events and his podcast, or contact him at info@donaldthompson.com for executive coaching, speaking engagements or DEI-related content. TDM has created LeaderView, a leadership assessment tool that uses cultural competency as a driver for improving whole team performance. To further explore DEI content and issues impacting your work and life, visit TDM Library, a multimedia resource hub that gives leaders a trusted source of DEI content.