Benefits and Compensation, HR Management & Compliance

Q&A: Does Remote Work for Women Result in Less Pay?

To this day equal pay for equal work is not a reality for many women in the United States. There are many forces at play, but recent research sought to explain what is happening.

Source: CharlieAJA / iStock / Getty

Today I am joined by Karen Rubin, VP of Growth at Owl Labs an organization that recently conducted research among 2,018 full-time U.S. workers with the aim of understanding this problem.

HR Daily Advisor: Your Equal Pay for Equal Work (From Home) data shows th`at men who work remotely full-time are 25% more likely to earn over $100,000 than women who work remotely full-time. Why do you think the wage gap still exists and why do you think it exists specifically for women who work remotely?

Rubin: It’s widely known that a woman in the U.S. earn roughly $0.80 for every dollar a man makes. But according to our research, the compensation gap is even more discouraging for women who work remotely—who only make $0.75 for every dollar their male counterparts make. This makes working from home less comfortable than most think.

Whether women work in an office or from home, they’re still fighting implicit and explicit biases around long-standing workplace stigmas. For example, for decades, organizations have assumed mothers who choose to take maternity leave are de-prioritizing their work in favor of their family. Despite the recent focus on improving parental leave policies, this stigma, known as the motherhood penalty, still causes organizations to unconsciously penalize mothers in the workplace.

While remote work isn’t the cause of the disparity, it is still a reflection of the ongoing stigmas we need to overcome because men are still benefitting more than women are when it comes to remote opportunities.

HR Daily Advisor: Do you have any experience dealing with unequal pay? Do the results of the study align with your experience?

Rubin: In a previous role, I had the unique opportunity to face the wage gap head-on with data. My company had done a great job hiring women, but I was worried that we weren’t paying them equally. I was also concerned that my own compensation wasn’t in line with other VPs, based on conversations I had with my co-workers and industry comparisons. But I was nervous about bringing it up and being seen as a complainer or stirring the pot.

My colleague and I worked together to propose an internal study to determine if the organization was paying its male and female employees equally. Our goal was to use our own small company as an example for others and also gain the transparency and awareness internally. While the CEO wasn’t willing to share the compensation data for the entire organization, he ran with the idea on his own and shared the results with us. It turned out that my hunch was correct.

While the company did a great job at recruiting women at a fair compensation, the gender pay gap became apparent after women were promoted—including me. In the end, thanks to the data, I got a raise and the company became more aware of the problem. I think the decision to approach the situation through the lens of data instead of a suspicion, allowed it to span beyond my own compensation and impact the entire organization.

The results of our Equal Pay for Equal Work (From Home) study serve as a reminder that we still have a long way to go when it comes to the wage gap. By forcing organizations to look at the data, whether it’s through internal or external research, we can continue to identify and address the obstacles standing in the way of equal pay and keep chipping away at the issues until they’re settled for good.

HR Daily Advisor: Your report found that female managers earn higher salaries if they work in the office (as opposed to remotely). What can executives do to make sure facetime isn’t a factor when deciding how much to pay their remote female managers?

Rubin: In addition to earning less if they work remotely, the report found that female managers feel less optimistic about advancing compared to men. In fact, according to the report, men who work remotely full-time are 45% more likely to expect two or more promotions than women who work remotely full-time.

This data points to a clear bias around facetime and how a lack of it negatively impacts the salary and career trajectory of women who choose to work remotely. Judging a worker by how much time is spent in the office is an outdated and unfair practice. Instead, salaries and promotions should be based on experience and contributions to the growth of the company. As remote work opportunities continue to grow, it will be especially important for leaders to ensure their managers are properly trained to manage and coach remote workers so they’re not subjected to these biases.

HR Daily Advisor: The data also suggests that male and female employees who always work remotely are 53% more likely to earn salaries of $100,000 or greater than those who never work remotely. Why are remote works viewed as more valuable to businesses?

Rubin: Remote work opportunities can expand candidate pools and target individuals with specialized skills set—many who might be senior-level employees that require six-figure salaries. And as remote work opportunities grow and technology improves to better connect distributed teams, being able to choose the best candidates, despite their location, will be a luxury many businesses have.

For example, I was able to hire a stellar salesperson for our Growth team remotely who I otherwise wouldn’t be able to hire. She’s been incredibly successful, and we’re extremely lucky to have her.

However, the report also suggests that companies may only trust senior-level employees to work remotely which shouldn’t be the case. If leaders take the time to develop a comprehensive remote work policy—one that’s fit for their company’s culture—they shouldn’t have a problem trusting their employees to be productive in and out of the office.

At Owl Labs, we’re lucky enough to employ people with various skill sets and levels of experience from across the globe that contribute to our success. As we grow as an organization, we will have to make sure that our local and remote team members have the same opportunities to grow in their careers. While face-to-face meetings cannot be replaced, technology like smart video conferencing cameras and Slack makes communicating with remote employees much easier than it was in the past, making these employees valuable parts of our team.

HR Daily Advisor: Like you’ve mentioned, remote work opportunities are growing, so how can businesses ensure they’re compensating remote workers fairly and equally?

Rubin: At Owl Labs, we believe transparency around the persisting gender pay gap is the only way to produce better outcomes for all employees. If my former boss wasn’t willing to take a deeper look at salaries and bring light to a clear disparity between men and women then the problem may have never been addressed. However, the reality is, having conversations about pay gaps can be tough and are not always well-received. Before addressing unequal pay it’s important to gain perspective on the situation, check your sources and choose the correct person to speak with.