I believe in equal pay for equal work, which is why I'm totally okay with Citigroup's announcement that, after careful study, the median pay for women is 71 percent of the median pay for men. (Minorities earn 93 percent of what white men earn.) 

If that sounds bizarre to you, you need to think back to sixth-grade math where you learned the term "median." The median is simply the middle number. So if you have 11 people, and you line them up by pay, whatever person number 6 earns is the median pay of that group. It can give you some idea of how things work, but it's not really the most helpful of numbers. This is especially true when you are looking at salary differences.

Citigroup, for instance, has call centers. I'm pretty darn sure the people I call (full disclosure: I have a Citibank credit card) when I need to change my address earn a lot less than the Senior VP of Finance at Citigroup HQ. And that's okay.

The more interesting number is this one: When Citigroup adjusted for numerous factors, including job function, level, and geography, women were paid at 99 percent of what men were paid. That's the number that matters. This means people doing the same job, at the same level, in the same location earn almost identical salaries. 

That's what you want to see. Salaries will be higher (generally) in New York City than in Manilla, Philipines. Human resources managers should be earning more than front line customer service agents. The question of fairness comes out when you compare people in identical roles.

In a small business, it can be harder to determine fair pay because every role is different. But in a company the size of Citigroup (with over 214,000 employees) you have a ton of people doing the same job. It's easy to look at pay equity, and when salaries are so close between genders, Citigroup can confidently say "good job!"

Not everyone gets that. Heck, not everyone within Citigroup gets that. But, Bess Levin at Vanity Fair takes the cake when it comes to lack of sixth grade math comprehension. Levin's article, Citigroup Bravely Announces it Pays Women Like S--T, (dashes in the original), talks about how what Citigroup needs is more women in higher positions.

As a starting point, our goal is to increase representation at the Assistant Vice President through Managing Director levels to at least 40% for women globally and 8% for Black employees in the U.S. by the end of 2021.

My question: Why? 

How do you get to these numbers in 3 years without some serious discrimination against the men who currently hold these jobs and some serious unprepared promotions for the women they want to place in these roles. Now, it may sound great to climb up the ladder quickly, but being promoted before you are ready is a disaster.

If you want true success, you need to be capable of doing the job you get. This isn't to say that there isn't a learning curve in any promotion--there is. But, if you're not at a certain level before you go into the new job, you'll fail. That's bad for you and bad for the company. 

You are not doing any woman a favor by promoting her for a position before she's ready. And, in fact, doing so, hurts women who are prepared. We all have unconscious biases and if you see unprepared woman after unprepared woman fail, your subconscious mind starts thinking that no woman can do the job. It's not true, of course, One who is prepared can.

While I don't have the formulas Citigroup used to calculate it's adjusted numbers, as someone who has done many of these analyses, time in position is a standard variable. If women weren't being promoted, you'd see a much bigger pay disparity. 

What I suspect is, like in many large companies, climbing to those high levels requires a tremendous amount of devotion to the job. Women tend to value flexibility more than money and not as many women are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to climb to the high levels. Is that due to discrimination or undue cultural pressure? Maybe. Is it due to a whole lot of choice? Absolutely.

So, because Citigroup is paying men and women doing the same job in in the same location the same amount, I'm totally cool with there being a huge difference in median income. 

Published on: Jan 18, 2019
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