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Taylor Swift, the gender pay gap and the impact on your people

By Mariann Madden | March 20, 2024

As the gender pay gap persists, the pop star is among those shedding light on the challenges women face in the workforce.
Compensation Strategy & Design|Inclusion-and-Diversity
Pay Transparency Legislation

From her career to her love life, public feuds and songwriting—a lot has been written and discussed about Taylor Swift. However, the perspectives shared by The New York Times staff writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner in The Daily’s podcast episode, “The Year of Taylor Swift,” are rarely broached by the mainstream media.

Brodesser-Akner’s interview delivered an unexpected revelation: Successful women may be seen publicly as having it all, but their professional accolades may be distorted by a dirty little secret. What is the secret casting a shadow over this public perception? Finding out that women aren’t allowed to advance their position and that they are paid less than their male peers.

This is what equal pay and opportunity laws are attempting to prevent. With Equal Pay Day this month, praising Swift’s actions on this topic is timely.

Swift tackles this revelation head-on, using her music as a powerful platform. In her song “My Tears Ricochet,” she laments not being afforded the opportunity to purchase her masters (original sound recordings). Meanwhile, Brodesser-Akner describes her experience discovering she was paid a third less than her male peers, saying she felt “betrayed by the people she thought loved” her and even betrayed by what she thought of herself.

She assumed that her employer would act in “her best interests” and describes how, when she looked back on her work at the time, she felt so lucky to have a career and achieve professional success. However, those memories, her personal sacrifices and her accomplishments are tainted because she realizes she was taken advantage of.

Margret Vilborg Bjarnadottir, Ph.D., co-founder of PayAnalytics, a pay equity software solution, shares a similar personal experience in the Forbes article, “This tech founder hopes to close the pay gap through data.” When she discovered her own gender pay gap, she too had a deeply personal and emotional experience. She was furious and went on to receive a teaching award just days after being told her pay deficit would not be fixed.

There is a perception that the gender pay gap is merely an urban legend—but there are plenty of examples of the government and courts finding evidence of pay discrimination. The reality of the gender pay gap is why laws like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 and the EU Pay Transparency Directive continue to be proposed and enacted.

So, now that we’re in our transparency era, employee expectations are changing. Employers need to take a step back and consider their pay programs. Employees want to understand their current and potential pay opportunities.

They want to believe they will be afforded the same opportunities to advance their careers. They want to trust that their employers will act in their best interests. And, for employers to provide insight into their pay and talent programs, certain equal pay drivers need to be in place.

4 foundations to address the gender pay gap

For change to occur, employers need to assess their current pay situation and ensure that the following fundamentals are underway, including:

Job structures

Develop and actively manage the foundational job architecture and job leveling frameworks used to define and organize jobs within your organization. These frameworks support the identification of roles that are doing equal work.

Pay structures and policies

Know where the organization stands by assessing how well pay structures support internal equity as well as external competitiveness. Establish a consistent approach to pay range disclosure—whether organization-wide or by defined job segments—that can be shared with job seekers and employees. Finally, maintain clear policies and guidance to inform pay decisions at hire, at promotion and during the annual review/performance cycle.

Data and analytics

Review data and systems to assess whether the necessary tools and analytics are in place that support the pay and pay equity information that needs or will need to be shared with a variety of stakeholders (e.g., job seekers, employees, investors, regulators, boards of directors). Conduct equal pay, pay gap and pay driver analyses to uncover and address areas of risk. Investigate cases in which one demographic group is being treated differently from another.

Education and engagement

Begin building a pay equity and transparency roadmap by defining the commitments, priorities and what will be communicated to each stakeholder group. Then, identify the key steps of delivery, including enabling and supporting managers so they are confident in their pay decisions and discussions with employees. Also, employ different learning strategies to allow employees to understand the expectations of their job, how performance impacts talent decisions and how pay decisions are made.

The true price of inequity

The pay gap is often described in numbers: how wide or narrow it is, how many employees are affected, how much it will cost to fix the gaps, etc. However, realizing what that thinking overlooks is important: the personal impact on affected employees, including longer-term lost wealth accumulation.

It’s true that organizations aren’t focused on how employees feel. Yet, every business story is built on a people story, and people are what make or break a business. Failure is easy. It can come through the loss of or inability to attract key employees, negative public perception or regulators’ inspection of programs and practices.

Success, on the other hand, requires an honest internal examination that brings those dirty secrets—no matter what they are—out of the shadows and into the light, regardless of how uncomfortable the process may be.


This article first appeared in Human Resource Executive on March 7, 2024.


North America Pay Equity Co-Lead
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