It finally happened, and it only took five years. The US women’s national soccer team (USWNT) will be paid the same as their male counterparts, including backpay. But is the discrimination and equal pay class action lawsuit settlement really a win? First, it’s contingent on a new collective bargaining agreement, an uphill battle. Second, it provides equal pay for equal performance, and that doesn’t necessarily apply. In soccer, unlike the workforce, the scorecard is the same in any league. Success is measured by goals scored, games won, and fans in the seats. By that measure, the US women’s team outperforms the men’s team, not only qualifying for the World Cup but also winning it all in back-to-back years – and that should mean more pay, not just equal pay.
A step forward is a step forward, no matter how small.
In the workforce, performance reviews are the tangible measure of a professional’s success, and unlike in soccer, men and women are notoriously measured on different scales. Oliver Wyman’s Women Leadership Report discusses how men and women define effective leadership differently, for example. Men emphasize decisiveness whereas women emphasize collaboration. Obstacles are put in place when women are evaluated to a different standard than men during performance reviews, as it inherently undermines their chances to become leaders.
Similar issues arise when men, who value different professional qualities, interview women for leadership positions. The Oliver Wyman report cites that affinity, or commonality and connection, plays a role when leaders in an organization are chosen. Affinity leads to higher trust, and these intangible factors make the “decision-maker more comfortable.” The report also finds that women dislike networking for networking’s sake. Being sidelined from opportunities reduces women’s exposure to develop trust with existing leadership, most often male dominated. When leadership of an organization does not include women, the impact has a snowball effect.
Although the USWNT’s win in the courtroom brought us a step closer in closing the gender pay gap, the bigger issue is the overall lack of women in leadership roles who can level the playing field. Five years for the USWNT seems lightning fast, as the overall pace of change is agonizingly slow. Women are highly qualified and competent to excel as leaders, and structural barriers imposed don’t just impact any single group. Barriers hold us all back as a high functioning society.
Once a woman achieves a seat at the table, the ability to influence, set policies, and lead by example are offset by traditional biases. As women climb the corporate ladder, her peer group shrinks, not grows. It’s incumbent on each of us then to not just recognize that different leadership styles and diverse perspectives are an asset, but to actively leverage that edge. Reward a wider range of metrics in performance reviews; assess all candidates by holistic measures. Because if you’re not intentionally including, you’re unintentionally excluding.