The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act marked a significant milestone in advancing equal pay for all workers. Seven years later, the median wage of a woman working full-time year-round in the United States remains only 79 percent of a man’s median earnings. And while this marks an improvement (back in 2008, the ratio was approximately 75 percent), it’s also a clear indicator that there is more work to be done. President Obama’s announcement of additional measures to close the gap will bring much-needed focus and attention on work that needs to be done. In particular, I am excited to learn that the White House is to host a summit on “The United State of Women” on May 23rd.

For many years, I have championed a focus on women leaders, gender diversity and the way that leveraging female talent can drive innovation and profitability. I firmly believe that while equality is important, it is just one element in a broader mix of initiatives that needs to be addressed in parallel. Equality is not just the right thing for people, it’s the right thing for business, innovation, and profitability. Recent research by Silvia Anne Hewlett reveals a remarkable correlation between inclusive leadership, innovative output, and market growth – what she calls a “speak up culture”.

We find that at publicly traded companies with two-dimensional diversity—where the senior leadership team has both inherent diversity in terms of gender, age, and race,and an acquired appreciation for difference based on experience and learning—employees are 70% more likely than those at non-diverse publicly traded companies to report having captured a new market in the last year and 45% more likely to report having grown market share.

But delivering on this proposition is a challenge for leaders. It means that we must address a seeming paradox – professional ambition and personal compassion.  Professional ambition in this context is not just about the individual leader’s agenda. It is necessarily broader. Today’s leaders require a growth mindset and a capacity for what I call compassionate leadership. As I explain on the NTTi3 blog:

Compassionate leadership requires bringing the heart into workplace.  This is often times seen by my fellow colleagues as being a soft and perhaps – weak approach – that inherently undermines productivity and profitability. Old traditional leadership theories have assured us that the best managers are the brainiest and most analytical—intentionally insulated from emotions. In fact, traditional leadership is often oriented toward a “command and control” mentality and approach. I disagree ‘heartedly’ with this notion.

Yet the question remains. How do leaders manifest compassionate leadership? It sounds great in theory but what does it look like in practice? We need to look no further than Salesforce’s Marc Benioff who has announced his support for President Obama’s recent announcements. In 2015, Benioff initiated a review of the the salaries of all 16,000 of Salesforce’s employees, spending $3 million to bring parity to give female employees salaries equal to male employees. As he explains:

I believe that businesses are more successful when equality is built into the fabric of the company.

And this is the real leadership challenge. It’s the challenge of culture beyond equality. It’s about building compassionate leadership, supporting it with the right processes, incentives and actions.

Nina Nets It Out: There has been much public focus and attention on the subject of equal pay – but in the seven years since the passing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, little has changed. Equality is a goal worth striving for – but the culture of business needs work before we can see more significant gains made.

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