Impact Series

Is your organization providing truthful pay? New nonprofit certifies these with nondiscriminatory wages

The Fair Pay Workplace board of directors, top row, left to right: Heidi Durham, Maria Colacurcio, Stephanie Lampkin, Sharawn Connors. Bottom row: Zev Eigen, Nancy Poznoff and Janet Salm. Not pictured: Chris Martin. (Fair Pay Workplace Photos)

Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements inspired many companies over the past year to pledge their commitment to fighting inequities.

But now that the streets are largely emptied of protestors and marches, some are left wondering what has changed.

A new nonprofit is trying to keep the momentum going. Seattle-based Fair Pay Workplace aims to help companies eliminate pay inequities among gender, race and ethnic differences. The organization has created an independent, transparent program for certifying companies that are undoing pay disparities among the ranks of their employees.

It recently announced its inaugural cohort of participants: American Airlines, tech companies Databricks and NerdWallet, health insurance provider Anthem, the Pacific Northwest’s Sellen Construction, and the University of California, Irvine.

“What is at stake here is gender equity and racial equity,” said Chai Feldblum, a former commissioner with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “Work is so important for people. It feeds our soul. But it’s also important in terms of how much we get paid, and how much we get paid sends a message of what’s valued.”

Women with comparable education and experience earn 93 cents on average to the dollar earned by men in the same role, according to a survey by Gartner. An unjustified disparity in pay is illegal, experts said.

Feldblum is part of the team that helped Fair Pair Workplace develop the rules and standards used to set the bar for certification. The 13-person cohort includes legal, HR, diversity and inclusion, and analytical experts.

Chai Feldblum, member of the Fair Pay Workplace alliance of experts and former commissioner with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (Fair Pay Workplace Photo)

The idea for the nonprofit originated two years ago with leaders from the Seattle startup Syndio: CEO Maria Colacurcio and founder and Chief Data Scientist Zev Eigen. Syndio is a for-profit platform that helps companies work toward and achieve pay equity. The company has raised $83 million since launching four years ago, including a $50 million round last month.

Fair Pay Workplace uses Syndio software for its compliance analysis and Colacurcio and Eigen are on the team of experts advising the effort and the nonprofit’s board of directors. But companies seeking Fair Pay Workplace’s seal of approval don’t need to use Syndio’s services to reach equity.

Fair Pay Workforce joins a field of organizations that provide equitable-pay certification, Feldblum said, but it’s unique for operating as a nonprofit and, most importantly, for its transparency in the process.

Heidi Durham, executive director of Fair Pay Workplace, emphasized her group’s commitment to helping companies along the journey to equity, and the benefits of participating in the program.

“It’s going to help your business,” she said. “It’s going to help your brand. It’s going to help you stand in front of your employees with a lot of confidence. [You’ll] demonstrate you care about them.”

Given the shortage of workers in many roles, pledging fair wages is one strategy for recruiting employees.

More particulars about the effort:

  • The certification process is for companies of 300 to 100,000 or more employees.
  • The analysis is careful to compare employees with comparable education levels and years of experience, and includes wages as well as bonuses and other discretionary sources.
  • The program costs $5,000 to $20,000, depending on company size.
  • 10 companies are currently going through the certification process, with 30 additional inquiries in the queue.
  • The process takes between eight-to-12 weeks for the initial certification, with ongoing check-ins.

Fair Pay Workplace recently launched a separate membership program to provide instructional resources, expert advice, updates on legal changes, and networking opportunities for professionals working on pay equity issues.

Experts in the space note that an even bigger challenge is the wage gap. That’s the difference in what people of different genders, races and ethnic groups earn across different jobs. The wage gap is due in part to what experts call “occupational segregation,” which is when a demographic group is overrepresented or underrepresented in different types of jobs. Wages have fallen in areas when women and other minorities become dominant in sectors, such as education and healthcare. Another factor is the lack of diversity in higher-paying leadership roles.

Tackling pay equity “is a perfectly good place to start,” Feldblum said, “partly because it is more straightforward to address, than the occupational segregation.”

These steps could perhaps lead to efforts to shrink the even larger gaps in pay linked to bigger societal issues.

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