Nearly 200 people participated in the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL’s) Women’s Initiative Breakfast on Gender Equality in the Workplace September 7. The breakfast featured movers and shakers in Houston’s business and legal community, shed new light on the pay gaps and disparities between men and women at the top levels of businesses, and looked at how those gaps and disparities could be bridged.
The panel was moderated by Yvonne Harris, the Diversity and Inclusion Brand Leader on the Corporate Responsibility team for Capgemini North America. Panelists included Katie Mehnert, founder and CEO of Pink Petro; Janet Pope, the North America Corporate Responsibility Director for Capgemini; Maria Rios, President and CEO of Nation Waste, Inc., the first female Hispanic-owned waste removal company in the United States; and Jim Sacher, the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission’s Regional Attorney from 1988-2016.
Harris began the discussion with sobering statistics: In 2016, women were paid 80 cents for every dollar men earned. Black women earned only 63 cents to each man’s dollar, Native American women just 58 cents and Latina women only 54 cents.
Mehnert added some statistics she found in the 2016 Women in the Workplace Study conducted by Leanin.Org and McKinsey and Company. She said the study found men are 30% more likely to get promoted than women and 85% were more likely than women to become a vice president by mid-career. And Sacher talked about a case in Texas courts that found it was legal to pay women less than men based on past salaries. Clearly there are huge gaps between genders in the workplace.
But panelists had some solutions. Rios stressed company owners and managers should lead from the top down. “I lead by example,” Rios said, and added company owners and managers should be good role models, and mentors. She said in her company, “we practice what we preach.”
Pope said companies and managers should be aware. “Just by reminding ourselves that we have bias in these processes, we can mitigate these biases,” she said. She talked about an EDGE certification, something companies can use to analyze and improve their gender equality. According to the certification website, EDGE “assesses policies, practices and numbers across five different areas of analysis: equal pay for equivalent work, recruitment and promotion, leadership development training and mentoring, flexible working and company culture.” Pope urged companies to take advantage of the certification.
Sacher said it would help if everyone explored his or her biases. He also said there was an opportunity to improve the situation through legislation. He cited a bill that was introduced in the Texas Legislature that would make it illegal for employers to talk about pay history when hiring employees.
And Mehnert encouraged men to help women achieve parity. She said men should give a woman a seat at the table, “give her a voice, and amplify that voice.”
The event was underwritten by numerous sponsors. Capgemini served as the event platinum sponsor, Pye Legal Group was silver sponsor for the event. Dimensions in Fashion, Memorial Hermann, and the YMCA served as bronze sponsors. Susi Knight and Vicki Merwin co-chair the Women’s Initiative, whose mission is to unite diverse women in efforts to drive change on social issue and civil rights through education and engagement.