As anyone who’s paying any attention knows, Monday March 8 was International Women’s Day.  On the one hand, I appreciate that women are being recognized for their contributions to society/ business/ education on this day. I was grateful for nods in my direction from women (and men) who recognize the role I play as a coach and advocate for women leaders.  And … I found myself grumpy once again that International Women’s Day is a bit like going to church on Easter Sunday and hoping that takes care of things with God for the rest of the year.  We’ve paid our respects, pledged to be more attentive on a more regular basis, and then… too easily let daily life take over again and let ourselves off the hook from our pledge.  Without accountability, pledges mean little.

International Women’s Day came amidst coaching sessions this past week in which the issue of unequal pay for equal work reared its ugly head again. One client, a Head of School, reported that her replacement at the school she just left last year, a man, was given a salary that was twice what she’d earned in that same role.  This despite the fact that she had 6 more years’ experience as a Head of School than he had and an Ed. D to his MA.  Another client was gearing up for negotiations for a raise based on her research that informed her she was earning $18K less than the median salary for someone with her level of experience in her geography.  Still another revealed that she hadn’t even considered negotiating her Head of School salary because she’d heard from recruiters that salaries aren’t negotiable, whereas other parts of a benefits package may be. Note: With rare exception this does not reflect my experience as a leadership search consultant at Search Associates for 7 years.

CIS recently released findings from their annual study of the gender pay gap for leaders in international schools.  Their data showed a gap of 23% between females and males for this past year, up (!) from 17% from the year before. The study looked at the pay gap in terms of years in leadership, years of education and years of experience as a head in the current school.  The gap persisted across all factors. There is something very wrong with this picture.  It suggests that female leaders aren’t as valuable as male leaders.  And yet, where’s the evidence for that?  If you can show that to me, I’ll back down.

If not, well … I won’t. Let’s address this!  

Some of you may remember the scene in the film Jerry Maguire when Rod Tidwell, the US pro football player who is on the fence about retaining Jerry as his agent, explains to him the conditions on which he’ll stick with him. “Show me the money!”  He wants Jerry to prove that he recognizes Tidwell’s value and will negotiate a contract on his behalf to demonstrate that.

A bit crass, but the right spirit for a rallying cry to close the gender pay gap in international schools.  We all have a role to play to “Show women the money!:”

·       Boards/school owners/ school recruiters – Do your research, learn what market rates are for school leaders in your school’s demographic, and align that with your school’s specific features and budget realities. CIS, Search Associates, and regional school membership organizations do this research and can assist their members. Draw up a clear decision tree for how to determine fair compensation for leaders in your school (based on education level, years of experience in schools, years of experience as head, etc. Note:  Gender has no place here).  Use that when making a salary offer.  Be prepared to demonstrate and defend your decision-making, particularly if the salary figure is revealed.

·      Recruiting firms and agents – Assist schools if necessary in coming up with a fair salary range based on clear criteria.  Share this information with short-listed candidates early enough in the process for them to make an informed decision about staying in the game. Provide guidance for the finalist candidate during the negotiation phase that is based on the objective factors outlined above.  Be prepared to advocate for the candidate if you note concerning evidence of unfair play (regardless of gender).

·      Leadership position candidates: Know your value. Be prepared to advocate for yourself.  Ask for salary range if you are short-listed (some kinder, gentler version of “Show me the money!), and for the criteria on which it is based.  Negotiate!  I know that for many women and even for some men, negotiation is right up there with root canals as something to look forward to.  It needn’t be.  And if done well, negotiating your contract (salary and beyond) may make the difference between success and failure in your next role. (Tip: You my increase your courage if you watch the “Show me the money!” clip linked above prior to a negotiation. Dance and vocals encouraged.)

·      Allies of female leaders seeking new positions: Remind her early and often that she is valuable and deserves a salary that reflects this.

My own pledge:  I am planning a “Negotiation skills and strategies for women leaders” training session to take place in May and periodically thereafter.  If you’re not already a subscriber to my updates and are interested in knowing more or participating in this, visit my website and subscribe to my email list.  You’ll get the alert that way.

By next International Women’s Day we can have something significant to celebrate if we all do our part to show women what they’re worth – literally and figuratively. Let’s do this.

Yours in putting money where our mouth is,

Bridget