I’ve been thinking and writing a fair amount about compensation within the green industry over the past year. It’s no secret that we, as an industry, struggle with negative perceptions about how well we pay and what opportunities do (or don’t) exist for newcomers to build vibrant and financially viable career paths. But there’s more to it than just a problem with low-pay perceptions; there’s an added layer of gender pay inequity that I think must also be addressed head on if we’re going to change perceptions in a positive way.

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Gender pay gaps can be a touchy subject for many in the workplace. Regardless, pay inequity is real; and it not only hurts women and their families, it also hurts the companies they work for — even if the companies don’t yet realize it. I have plenty of my own experiences with pay inequity — frankly, it’s a big reason I started my own company and went to work for myself. But that’s not an option, or a goal, for every woman in the working world.

We know that when women are in leadership roles in a company, that company tends to be more profitable. We know that when women start businesses in their community, overall economics improve. We also know that women are naturally creative, wired to be productive jugglers, and are supportive team players. Even so, women still earn about 20 percent less than their male counterparts; with the pay discrepancy being greater in higher paying professions and by skin color and age.

Progress on that wage gap has stalled over the past decade. Not to mention, when you start out at a lower pay grade for equal credentials and work, the compensation losses also add up exponentially over a lifetime. So, why are women still earning less for all our valuable contributions?

Some will say that a lack of confidence and negotiating skills are responsible for women earning less. Many women have admitted this to me; in fact, it seems common for women to blame themselves. You don’t get what you don’t ask for, right? That’s true to a degree, and we need to work on empowering women with a better sense of value. Unfortunately, new research shows that women are penalized for negotiating more assertively on their own behalf. Bit of a catch-22.

The other arguments against the concept of the gender pay gap include things like how women “choose” lower paying careers and “choose” to be involved mothers, therefore they “choose” to sacrifice their own ability to earn well alongside their male peers. I would say that the definition of choice is arguable in this context, and I can counter such arguments all day long. I think however, it’s more productive for a business to focus on taking a close look at biases built-in to existing company culture and hiring practices as the real root of pay discrepancies.

Have you ever caught yourself thinking you need to offer a male applicant more money than a female applicant or women already on staff, or give him a raise, because he has a family to care for? (Women have the same families). Perhaps you’ve offered a woman applicant a lower salary because she has children, or you think she might have children in the future (men have the same children). Or perhaps you’ve paid a childless women less than her male counterpart because she doesn’t have children to take care of, while at the same time expecting her to work more. In any case, your company could benefit from a pay audit.

A pay audit involves reviewing the hiring history, starting salaries, promotions and pay increase schedules for female and male employees within your company, across all position levels. You should also evaluate the differences between starting salaries for new hires that are replacing employees that have been with your company a significant amount of time, or made significant contributions. Taking into account, of course, the individual’s credentials, experience, tenure, and value to the company; making comparisons over a long enough period of time to garner real data and meaningful trends.

Transparency in compensation is another strategy that pay equity advocates have been pushing for these days. It shouldn’t surprise you when newer or younger employees begin to demand to know what you and their co-workers make. Abolishing pay history on applications and interviews is another strategy. I’d advise both applicants to stay mute on the subject and employers to not ask nor require an answer. Focus on getting paid, and paying for, the work you intend to do and get now.

Creating a level playing field for compensation doesn’t mean that women and men are going to do the exact same work, or go about it in exactly the same way. Women and men each bring their own strengths to the table in a position, and the benefit of that within your company dynamic is well-rounded balance. You could benefit from being more creative with your compensation structure and acknowledge that every employee is unique and has different needs.

If a female employee needs a more flexible schedule or time off for motherhood, provide that time as a benefit that’s worked into her overall compensation package. Her base salary might be lower, but the tradeoff of flexibility or more paid time off makes it a win/win. The bottom line is, don’t punish women for having children whilst rewarding men for having them. Don’t fear the possibility of women needing some flexibility; rather, focus on their ability to be highly productive with their available time. Work with us and you’ll be rewarded with loyalty and results.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com