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If a company is serious about racial pay equity, what should it do?

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Colleagues chatting at the office. Companies can take steps to close the racial pay gap, starting with collecting the data.

Companies can take steps to close the racial pay gap, starting with collecting the data. PeopleImages

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The editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit magazine, Adam Rapoport, has resigned after a photo resurfaced of him dressed up as a caricature of a Puerto Rican man, wearing a chain around his neck, a do-rag on his head and a Yankees baseball jersey. His wife tagged the photo “boricua,” a term Puerto Ricans often use to identify themselves. Also, staffers accused Bon Appetit of underpaying people of color.

Condé Nast, the magazine’s parent company, said on Twitter that it goes to “great lengths to ensure that employees are paid fairly, in accordance with their roles and experience, across the entire company.”

Moving beyond Bon Appétit, if a company is serious about racial and ethnic pay equity, what concrete steps should it be taking?

The first part is pretty basic. It’s hard to fix what you don’t measure. Companies can start by collecting the data. Adia Harvey Wingfield teaches sociology at Washington University in St. Louis.

“You’ll see many researchers say that if companies really want to address diversity and inclusion, set hard targets, set specific goals, treat this as you would any other metric in a company,” Harvey Wingfield said.

You can measure the pay gap in different ways. You could do an average of the salaries of all employees, broken down by race and ethnicity. Or go position by position. Marketing manager level three — what is everybody making?  

Kellie McElhaney, who directs the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership at the University of California, Berkeley, said companies should also publish their data.  

“Pain is the fastest driver,” McElhaney said. “We know that there is not gender or racial pay equity, period. We know that. So let’s just not hide behind the numbers. Let’s get them out there.”

She said companies should make a public commitment to pay equity and hold managers accountable for it.

​”If Mary in this organization has a 2% pay gap and Mark in this business unit has a 12% pay gap, then Mark’s comp has got to be tied to: Are you achieving the goal that we have set for us as a company? If it’s not, he’s got to feel it,” she said.​

Katherine Giscombe, who runs the research and consulting firm Giscombe and Associates, said companies should set clear, objective criteria for where an employee falls in the salary range for a position, because too often bias creeps in.

“If it’s, well, I just see this person as being at the upper level of the scale. I really like this guy. He reminds me of my family. I mean, obviously, people wouldn’t literally say something like that. But that could be the basis for their biased recommendation that someone get a higher level of pay,” Giscombe said.

And she recommends changing the performance review process so employees are evaluated by multiple colleagues of various ethnic and racial backgrounds when they’re going for a raise or promotion.

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