Comparable Worth: Navigating your Economic Parity (as printed in the July/August edition of Onyx Magazine)

July 17, 2013 Comparable Worth: Navigating your Economic Parity (as printed in the July/August edition of Onyx Magazine)

As we celebrate 150 years of emancipation, which was the catalyst to the XIII amendment and led the way for legislation to provide equal rights for all, we simultaneously celebrate 50 years of legislation for equal pay.

The XIII amendment moved African-Americans from jobs that were forced upon our ancestors which paid slave wages.  These jobs provided the bare necessities for food, clothing and shelter.  They did not offer monetary exchange or the freedom to choose jobs that would pay a livable wage to meet the same needs determined by the individual and not the “owner”.  Today, we have the right to work in any job with the expectation to receive a minimum wage and ultimately a compensation package that will provide for a reasonable standard of living.

The past 150 years have been progressive in closing the gap on employment and equal pay opportunities, however; the debate continues on the income disparity amongst minorities with little regard to the discussion of comparable worth.  Is the issue a matter of wage inequity or are we continuing to battle the enigma of comparable worth?  Comparable worth describes the notion that sex-segregated jobs should be reanalyzed to determine their worth to the employer.  I propose we take a broader approach and analyze race-segregated jobs as the next level of discussion.  Race segregated jobs would be defined as positions within certain industries which attract minorities at a rate greater than others.  These industries would include but are not limited to, manufacturing, general labor, education, healthcare and social services. It is important to note that comparable worth should not be confused with equal pay for equal work.  Comparable worth policies promote equal pay for comparable work.  Is there comparable worth between services related work and technology related work?

In the interim, while Government and Industry leaders explore the issues associated with income disparity, we celebrate the freedom given through emancipation to choose our career fields and to manage the financial value associated with that choice.  This permits movement from economic disparity by managing income parity.  We must explore if our disparity is based on what we earn or how we manage (i.e. spend) what we earn.  It is imperative that we take control of managing our personal economics.

During a discussion on this topic with compensation professionals, three guidelines were offered to assist in negotiating a compensation package.  Your compensation package is a basis for financial independence.

1) Understand your financial requirements

Set your Baseline:  Evaluate your current expenses and assess what you NEED to earn.  Once you have a baseline be firm about your salary requirements, but negotiate within a range.

2) Understand your Industry

Skills are transferable but pay and benefits are not.  Different industries place varying values on skills which result in different pay ranges for the same skill set.  For example: An accountant is likely to be paid more at an accounting firm than working in the accounting department for a hotel chain. Also, certain industries can afford to pay more than others. For example: “Services” industries can typically afford to pay more than “Not-for-Profit” organizations- for the same exact skills.

3) Understand your Compensation Package

A compensation package may consist of:

  •  A combination of wages or salaries
  •  Benefits such as health coverage, disability coverage, contribution to a retirement saving plan
  •  Bonus payments.

It is important to note that not all of the elements of the plan are required.  Compensation is determined by the employing organization.  Understanding the elements of your package helps you to determine your actual take home pay.  Remember, “Base Salary does not equal Take Home Pay”.

In conclusion, the financial value associated with your chosen career field, your salary requirements and the ability to negotiate based on these components will provide a platform for providing a quality standard of living.