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Equal Pay: What does the research say?

When I wrote my Equal Pay book, I read many research studies. They all explored a slightly different aspect of pay transparency and that’s how my understanding of the topic grew. Some studies focused on individual firms and reported what the researchers observed after pay transparency was implemented. Others focused on governments or national legislation, and came with suggestions for policy improvements.

Researchers contribute by measuring the outcomes of these programs scientifically, and providing recommendations on how we can be more successful. In addition, I find it insightful to read how theoretical concepts work out in practice. So here are five (or actually, six!) research articles I found helpful. Since there are many more, let me know which one I should read next! I’ll share those in a future edition.

Five pay transparency studies you should read today

A study that I come back to again and again is “Is Pay Transparency Good?” by Zoë Cullen. The author often writes about this topic and she carefully lays out the positive and negative effects of pay transparency. She does that by distinguishing between horizontal pay transparency (between coworkers), vertical transparency (between different layers of seniority) and cross-firm transparency (between competing organizations). This distinction helps when discussing the various effects (positive and negative) after implementing pay transparency. Ms Cullen introduces studies from other researchers to underpin her findings. If you want a thorough introduction into the consequences of establishing equal pay, this article is a great place to start.

I often say that clear and precise communication is the most important contributor to a successful pay transparency initiative. Everyone has an opinion about pay, even if they don’t share it publicly. What do you think of transparent pay? examines what people really think about Pay Transparency. Konrad Kulikowski followed the internet debate in Poland after a new law was proposed aiming to improve transparency by introducing pay ranges in job offers. This study offers valuable insights because it evaluates the public opinion in a qualitative way. The author classified these online comments into higher-order themes. You’ll find two tables: one organized along positive sentiments and one along negative sentiments. These tables help you prepare for the different reactions you might encounter when implementing pay transparency in your organization. You’ll read what people might really think about your initiative: what do they NOT say out loud?

And continuing on the topic of communication: Peter Bamberger often writes about the topic of pay transparency. Reading Pay Transparency: Conceptualization and Implications for Employees, Employers, and Society as a Whole helps you understand the nuanced differences of transparency: from pay-outcome transparency to pay-process transparency and pay-communication transparency. You’ll discover that process and communication transparency have mostly beneficial consequences, where pay-outcome transparency might bring about higher levels of envy, counterproductive work behavior and pay compression. These insights helps you determine how to best approach transparency in your organization. Keep in mind that transparency can be a gradual journey: you don’t have to disclose each individual’s salary.

People often say that pay discrepancies exist because men are better negotiators. But before you accept that conclusion, you might want to read this study about Gender Differences in Negotiation. Because it might not be the negotiator. The gender of their negotiation counterpart plays a large role when i comes to starting a negotiation. And follow that up by reading Can Interventions Reduce the Gap? by María P. Recalde and Lise Vesterlund for suggestions how to fix our companies and institutions rather than “fix” women to be more like men.

And finally, a study published by the International Labour Organization (ILO) found that pay transparency can help reduce the gender pay gap. Their research indicates that pay transparency measures, such as periodic pay disclosures and pay audits, provide employees with more information to negotiate fair pay and challenge pay discrimination. On the policy side, the ILO emphasizes that engaging employers’ and workers’ organizations (communication again!) is crucial to successfully implementing these measures and eliminating pay discrimination in the workplace. Pay transparency legislation: Implications for employers’ and workers’ organizations.

Where can you find this research?

I often start my search by going to https://www.researchgate.net/. It’s an extensive database with research articles. You can typically read the abstract and often download the whole study. https://scholar.google.com is a great resource that includes research you can download from universities and institutes. It combines free and paid (gated) research. Be very specific in your search request, otherwise you might end up with thousands of documents about pay (tip: use “pay transparency” or “equal pay” in quotes to limit the results).