When it comes to gender equality in the workplace, Georgia is full of contradictions. In eastern parts of the state capital of Atlanta, in Georgia’s 4th congressional district, women make 92 cents for every dollar a man earns, the smallest gender wage gap of any district in the country. Yet, across the entire city, women are paid on average 65 cents on the dollar and their median pay is lower than median pay for men anywhere in Georgia.
All that may be about to change. The most recent jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the 94th straight month of U.S. job growth and unemployment dipping below 4 percent for the first time in nearly two decades. The employment situation is even better in Atlanta, where unemployment has dropped to 3.6 percent.
As Georgia’s employers face the tightest labor market in decades, they are forced to increase compensation for even non-supervisory positions. Combined with a growing awareness of gender inequality in the workplace, the city’s labor market is experiencing a “perfect storm” of workforce and cultural transformation, where women have a rare opportunity to negotiate wage adjustments and close the gender wage gap once and for all.
In an economy going gangbusters, employers throughout Georgia are under enormous pressure to invest whatever is required to attract the best talent and retain their best employees. Organizations that meet women’s demands for wage parity and actively pursue greater gender diversity within executive leadership could see a remarkable return on the investment.
But change will not be easy. The gender wage gap may be wider than first thought, according to new research by the People’s Policy Project. When you include contingent workers—part-time, freelance, and contract employees—the national gender wage gap nearly doubles, from 20 cents to 39 cents. It gets worse for women who climb the corporate ladder. By age 50, male executives make 65 percent more annually than similar female executives, according to compensation research firm Payscale, and are 85 percent more likely to have advanced to the C-suite.
Still, if there was ever an opportunity for progress, it is now. With unemployment well below the national average and skilled talent in short supply, wages are all but guaranteed to increase.
Wage growth is a sign that talent scarcity is a concern for employers. More than half of the 800 C-suite and human capital leaders surveyed for Randstad Sourceright’s 2018 Talent Trends Report said they were concerned enough to plan substantial investments over the next year to improve the workplace experience and attract and retain the best talent.
Recent events have also elevated the issue of wage equality to the point that it is difficult to imagine a female candidate negotiating salary without the issue surfacing. The #MeToo movement against workplace harassment precipitated the #TimesUp campaign, which has raised awareness of the gender wage gap across industries. In response, some high-profile companies—like Google, Salesforce and Citigroup—have already announced salary adjustments to eliminate any gap in wages between their male and female employees.
Atlanta’s employers must follow their lead if they hope to retain the valuable women they currently employ. A full 80 percent of women recently told Randstad US that they would leave their employer for one that offered better gender equality.
When efforts to diversify organizational leadership are paired with a genuine commitment to include women’s disparate perspectives, employers create more effective executive leadership and have a potential return on the investment that more than compensates for the higher salaries required to close the gender wage gap.
Change occurs not from knowing the right thing to do, but by doing it. Atlanta’s working women may have no better opportunity than now to achieve wage parity with men, and they owe it to each other to make the most of this moment.
Rebecca Henderson is CEO of Randstad Sourceright, a global talent solutions leader with U.S. headquarters in Atlanta.