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MIND THE GAP

The push for gender diversity in leadership is entering a whole new phase

By Natasha Frost

Traditional strategies to boost gender equity in the workplace don’t seem to be working.

Unconscious bias training is great, annual diversity reports are illuminating, and the frequent promises to try harder and do better are not unappreciated. But women still make up less than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs and only 20% or so of Fortune 1000 board positions.

What if there was another way to get companies to address—and measure—their ability to improve representation of women at the top?

Arjuna Capital, an impact-investing firm, says there is, and it’s introducing shareholder resolutions at a dozen big US companies in the hopes of compelling them to use it. It’s the metric of median pay.

Closing the median gender pay gap, the difference in median salaries for women and men working full-time at an organization, is different from closing the “equal pay” gap. The latter involves how much you pay men and women to do the same job. The former reveals how your organization is structured—whether women are right up at the top, or left holding down the fort at the bottom. Without putting more women in higher-paying roles, which at most companies means leadership roles, it’s all but impossible to fix.

Arjuna is targeting high-profile companies in the tech and finance sectors: Adobe, Alphabet/Google, Amazon, American Express, Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon, Citigroup, Intel, Facebook, JPMorgan Chase, Mastercard, and Wells Fargo. Each has been asked to release information on the percentage global median pay gap between male and female employees, across race and ethnicity, including base, bonus and equity compensation. (Citigroup has already done so. )

The initiative comes in the wake of similar shareholder proposals and concurrent dialogues, which last year helped to persuade big hitters such as Citi, Wells Fargo, and Amex to publish their equal-pay data. Large tech companies, such as Apple and Facebook, have done the same. This time around, Arjuna is going back to companies that it has already engaged, and that “have taken the first step and told that ‘equal pay for equal work’ story. Now we’re asking them to tell the rest of the story,” Arjuna managing director Natasha Lamb says.

Corporate policies and initiatives might be a good start, she said, but as investors, “we want to have clear metrics from which to measure progress over time. The median pay gap is one of those metrics.”

On Jan. 16, Citigroup, in a blog post, became the first major company in the US to reveal data on its global median pay gap. The stats show how much disparity there can be between median pay and equal pay: Adjusted for job function, level, and geography, women at Citi get paid 99% of what men do to do the same job. But when it comes to median pay, there’s a significant difference: women at Citi earn just 71% of what their male counterparts do, due to striking under-representation at the highest echelons of the company.

“It’s an ugly number on the surface,” Citi CEO Michael Corbat admitted last month in Davos, Switzerland, during a Bloomberg-sponsored event on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum. ”But you really have to get below it … to fix it.” To that end, he said, the bank is hiring gender-balanced classes of new employees now, and working on ways to maintain that gender ratio as employees rise up through the ranks.

“[P]ublishing the median pay gap is very important because what it does is it creates a baseline from which to measure progress,” says Lamb. “All the things that are happening internally, we don’t know whether or not those initiatives are effective unless we can measure.”

Representation numbers are one way to measure the progress, she says, but they aren’t enough on their own. “Even though they’re connected and related and correlated, pay is its own unique view of how high-paying jobs and salaries shake out across the organization. So we need to see both of those things.”