Transparency Talk

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Why Salary Compensation Transparency Can Counteract Equity
March 7, 2018

Vincent Robinson is founder and managing partner of The 360 Group, a national executive search firm dedicated to creating social impact by placing exceptional leaders into extraordinary mission-driven organizations.

Vincent Robinson photoIn The 360 Group’s work as executive search consultants to foundations and nonprofits, we know that transparency around compensation is a perennially thorny issue, and one that we find many well-intentioned organizations getting wrong. Given the counter-intuitive nature of what I’m about to say, I would like to provide important context that may help others understand how we approach compensation transparency, particularly in light of our efforts to make diversity and equity a key priority in our work.

“...We advise our clients not to ask that candidates submit their salary histories because we know that contributes to inequitable salary structures, particularly for women and people of color.”

For a bit of background: I launched The 360 Group 13 years ago, specifically with an eye on making the sector more diverse, more contemporary, and better prepared to address a whole new set of challenges in increasingly complex times. Our view is that more diverse teams — and more diversity in leadership — maximize the variety of perspectives that organizations need to be successful, effective, and more representative of the communities that they serve. Countless studies, notably those by Maggie Neale and Scott Page, have demonstrated the power of diversity in groups and teams, only emboldening our firm’s mission and theory of change. Diversity in groups can also make what can be challenging work a hell of a lot more fun.

Beyond compensation, then, our goal is to extend our reach and that of our clients to identify people from all backgrounds and walks of life for leadership opportunities. To do that, we want to reduce barriers for candidates, rather than build them up (and those barriers can be completely artificial). Our charge is to understand organizations well and identify candidates who can lead them and have the desire to do so with passion, heart and values.

At The 360 Group, market comparables drive our guidance to clients (and candidates) around compensation, as well as the skills and value of a candidate. We do not tie executive compensation to salary history. We know that women and people of color are represented in just a fraction of leadership roles — across every sector. To build that leadership bank, especially in senior positions, we seek out candidate pools of devoted (and often underpaid) nonprofit professionals as well as highly-paid executives. The salary one has earned shouldn’t dictate the salary one may earn, so we advise our clients not to ask that candidates submit their salary histories because we know that contributes to inequitable salary structures, particularly for women and people of color. That is our philosophy and commitment in this work. And in states like California and Oregon, as of 2018, it is now against the law for employers to ask candidates for salary history because of this very issue.

EquityPerhaps more important than the range itself is transparency around the process by which foundations establish their executive compensation. Demystifying the process serves to create both internal and external understanding about how this key decision is made, and discloses who gets to weigh in on the process. This level of transparency is helpful to the institution as much as outsiders – just ask any compensation consultant! Useful examples of how other foundations are publicly describing their executive compensation process are included in the helpful Glasspockets transparency self-assessment tool here.

Additionally, we also field questions about why we do not post a salary range for the CEO role. Our answer comes from the heart: we don’t want fabulous people to self-select out, based purely on numbers. To be truly committed to equity (which we are), creating even the perception of obstacles runs at cross-purposes to acting in equity. For better or worse, in the philanthropic field, salaries and compensation packages are all over the map. That is why we rely on independent market analyses and our compensation expert colleagues to inform ranges for our client organizations. So if a role is valued at between, say $300,000 and $500,000, the person ultimately selected will be compensated in that range based on the experience and value they bring to the role — regardless of whether they have earned a fraction of that amount or orders of more magnitude. That is equity in compensation, a practice we have relied on from the inception of our firm, and just one important ingredient in our efforts to bring diversity and equity to our sector.

As I’ve noted above, not all transparency works against diversity, equity, and inclusion. There are specific kinds of transparency that work to accelerate the creation of a more equitable sector, and I’ll delve into that in this space in a future post.

--Vincent Robinson

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About Transparency Talk

  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation Center.

    Questions and comments may be
    directed to:

    Janet Camarena
    Director, Transparency Initiatives
    Foundation Center

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