Gender Pay Gap: Tips for Employers to Ensure Their Salaries Are Equitable

March 11, 2024 | By Kevin Gray

Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion
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Katie Donovan—founder and consultant at Equal Pay Negotiations LLC, which helps individuals achieve pay equity and equitable representation in leadership—highlights the two basic causes of pay gaps for women:

  • Women are underpaid doing the same and similar jobs as men; and
  • Women are underrepresented in leadership.

“Women don’t make it to the higher-paying jobs of VPs and C-Suite jobs at the rate comparable to men,” Donovan explains.

“The slowdown in career progress starts at the very first step of movement. In entry-level and individual- contributor jobs, women representation is approximate to their representation in the general population. However, at the very first promotion to manager, the representation of women drops significantly.” (Note: NACE’s research indicates the gap begins right out of college.)

According to a report by McKinsey and Lean In, women drop from 48% of entry-level positions to 40% of managers. 

“As to the pay at each job level, it is very hard to find a job in which equal pay exists,” Donovan points out.

She cites research by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows there are fewer than 20 jobs in which women earn 99% or more of what men earn. Furthermore, when women obtain more education to improve their income, the pay gaps widen.

“So, with those facts as an intro, the short answer is systemic biases lower women’s pay,” she says.

Donovan offers more detail, notably that the use of salary history in determining pay is a systemic bias.

“That,” Donovan points out, “is on its way to becoming an obsolete systemic bias. When I started the push for that back in 2011, it wasn’t part of the pay equity conversation. It was such a common step in the process to ask, ‘What do you earn?’ that no one was talking about how it made it mathematically impossible to close pay gaps.

“There are tons of other steps in the process that have similar impact. For equal pay at the same and similar jobs, I am now talking about the norm of targeting median market pay for job offers. Using the median pay of everyone is mathematically lower than using the median pay of men when there is a pay gap. Referring back to the fact that just a few jobs have pay equity means this practice makes it nearly impossible to close the pay gap for all the other jobs.”

For equal representation at higher-level jobs, some obstacles women face include organizations:

  • Referencing negative personality traits for a woman doing the same things as men;
  • Promoting on potential for men more than for women;
  • Having a tendency to promote women more on accomplishments;

“In addition, there is the glass cliff on which women get promoted when things are such a mess that [organizations] are fine [promoting] a woman,” Donovan says.

“The list could go on and on.”  

For employers to ensure their salaries are equitable and to promote equal pay, Donovan suggests:

  • Posting pay information on job advertisements and sharing with candidates;
  • Not asking questions about salary history;
  • Targeting pay at levels that are higher than the median pay of everyone since it is lower than the median pay of men;
  • Not allowing or removing any reference to personality in candidate reviews and annual reviews;
  • Relying less on referrals for hiring; and
  • Not thinking of culture fit.

“To truly be equitable, your culture is going to change,” Donovan says.

“Instead, search for fits of ability and mindset. For example, are you a fail-fast organization or one that is slower and more methodical with many layers of approval? Interviewing candidates about fit for those things is more appropriate than the shorthand of ‘our culture,’ especially if your culture is certain schools, certain networks, and more.”

blank default headshot of a user Kevin Gray is an associate editor at NACE. He can be reached at