The wage gap and beyond: online HR learning for reframing complex people programs

March 14th, 2022

March 8th marked International Women's Day. As we commemorate this day—which has its roots in the labor movement—it's an interesting time to reflect on how we're working toward gender equity at the office. No single policy will end complex issues like the wage gap, so how can we ensure our efforts lead to real progress?

HR professionals today need the problem-solving skills that will help them develop novel solutions to these sorts of complex people problems. Online learning for HR can help people leaders develop the skills that will help them do just that, beginning with asking the right questions that can help them make data-driven decisions that will truly affect employee outcomes.

Here's how asking the right questions helped researchers in Denmark reframe the issue of the wage gap and discover a solution that would help them more effectively address this sticky HR problem, along with a few suggestions for digital HR courses that can help HR professionals further hone these same problem-solving skills.

Our online HR resource: how to reframe complex HR problems

A Resource in the Josh Bersin Academy, "The Truth Behind the Gender Wage Gap," explores how researchers in Denmark approached the wage gap in a way that would help them come up with novel solutions. They saw that Danish women earned 20% less than their male counterparts over the course of their careers, on average. The prevailing wisdom in Denmark, as in many places, was that this wage gap was the result of sexism. Yet focusing on discrimination wasn't solving the problem, so the researchers decided to explore other factors, too.

They found that one life event was consistently correlated to the widening of the wage gap: the birth of a child. Whereas men’s work was virtually unaffected after the birth of their first child—by the numbers, at least—Danish women saw their pay decrease dramatically.

HR learning and actionable policies

While fighting bias is crucial, it's important for us as HR people to consider the actionable policies, like improving parental leave or creating greater flexibility, that can have a greater impact in the span of someone's career. These big, entrenched problems are always multifaceted, and one major goal of our digital HR academy is to help learners develop strategies for looking at problems like these in a new and more strategic way. Often, as the research from Denmark shows, assessing a complex HR program from a novel angle may offer a more effective solution.

To be clear, the authors state, these findings don’t eliminate the possibility that discrimination or sexist attitudes play a role. After all, our ideas about work and parenthood don’t form in a vacuum. And the study specifically finds that Danish women’s career choices strongly correlated with those of their parents, suggesting a specific mechanism by which traditional gender narratives can contribute to the wage gap even across generations.

Furthermore, in today's extremely dynamic work setting, it will be interesting to keep an eye on how remote and hybrid work affect these outcomes, too.

But overall, the Danish study shows how by reframing the problem away from common explanations, the authors were able to paint a more complete picture, one that sheds light on the complex intersection of individual choices, personal beliefs, organizational policies, and matters of social inequity. In exposing some of the multifaceted, interwoven factors that contribute to a phenomenon like the gender wage gap, they are showing us the power of revisiting even the most fundamental assumptions we have about the problems we are trying to solve.

Building essential HR skills today

These critical thinking and problem-solving skills are essential for a successful HR team today. Our Design Thinking for HR Certificate Program can help with these reframing skills, and our online HR courses like Elevating Equity and The Voice of the Employee can help HR professionals build the capabilities that will help them more effectively address issues of equity and understand the experiences of different employees in their own organizations.

Ultimately, as this Resource highlights, solving complex people problems is all about reframing. Digital learning for HR can be a great tool to help HR professionals develop the skills they need to see problems in a new light, and thus develop new and more effective solutions.

Learn more about the Josh Bersin Academy and explore our other HR Certificate Programs.