We’ve read bold headlines about the gender pay gap, reporting that men are paid an average of 20% more than women around the world. According to Korn Ferry ’s extensive pay database and unique ability to use job evaluations to make comparisons, we found that women do get paid less than men as a demographic group despite the economic growth. This has also undoubtedly sparked many discussions on minimizing the pay gap between men and women at work.

We found that the key reason for this trend is because many women are still not getting to the highest-paying jobs, functions and industries, while men thrive in all three. Many studies unveil that there are lesser women at the managerial and C-suite level than men. In fact, sometimes women get ‘stuck’ at a particular level. As such, the higher up in organizations you look, the more men dominate and the more the pay gap widens.

Some women remain unwilling to take on higher positions

Yet, when presented with the opportunity for promotion, some women are unwilling to taking on higher positions. Why?

Other than the usual bias of society and organization, women face much pressure from her family as a mother and spouse. One of the reasons women are unwilling to take on new challenges at work is because they are deterred by the extra time they need to put in once they are promoted to a new position. Hence, other than promoting women to managerial levels and C-suite positions, organizations should also look into helping women juggle their work and family responsibilities.

There are many ways to level the playing field for women’s progress in organizations. One key way is to achieve wage parity and ensure more women advance to senior managerial levels, including to CEO, board director, and C-suite executive positions. To get women there, we need to ensure that early, and throughout their careers, women receive mission-critical and complex assignments as well as candid feedback about their performance. That way, they can build the essential skills, experiences, and attributes that are valued at the top.

We need to ensure women receive mission-critical assignments that allow them to advance to senior managerial levels. Click To Tweet

In a survey with more than 7,000 respondents for a study on Real World Leadership, we examined the gender pay gap in detail. We found that the pay gap exists globally ─ just not in the way many people think. Instead, tapping into our database of more than 20 million salaries at 25,000 organizations in 100 nations, we found the gap is small — as low as 2.7% in France, for instance, or 1.4% in Australia, or .8% in Britain — for like positions.

Our study also offered a solid business case for why the gender pay gap must be closed, as well as why and how organizations can benefit if they stop underutilizing half their workforce.

Here are some of our recommendations. They are outlined in more detail in the report, Leveling the Playing Field: What Organizations Can Do. Steps to leveling the playing field for women:

  • Rethink how women get recruited, developed, and rewarded. Are processes and postings bias-free? Are diverse candidates, especially women, sought out even before posts are advertised? When it comes to pay, are women recognized without bias, say through big data and performance metrics that see their key roles as influencers at hubs of work, where they are in the middle of the action?
  • Ensure robust representation of women in the talent pipeline. Are companies’ elite – men and women – championing diversity programs? Are they actively recruiting females or solely relying on women to step up and apply? Do positions require unnecessary demands that might disrupt rising leaders’ families with frequent moves, especially overseas? Are expectations about candidate fit realistic and mission-critical?
  • Scrutinize the culture ─ and being willing to change it. What do women want in the workplace culture, and what benefits do females really desire? Is the workplace toxic to women, such that they are forced to act just like aggressive, unhappy male colleagues? Do leaders at all levels, especially in the middle, campaign for gender and other forms of diversity as well as embrace ideas that better the organization?

Download the report Leveling the Playing Field: What Organizations Can Do, for more Korn Ferry tips on how to promote, develop and reward women.

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About the contributor

Luan Le is a Principal for Korn Ferry Advisory, Vietnam. He has over 20 years of experience in management consulting, with a focus in management development, reward management and performance management. He has led various multi-assessments, compensation & benefit market research, and human resource consulting projects for large local and multinational organisations across various sectors in Vietnam; delving into organisation structure review, design of reward and performance management systems.

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