Ask a BAM Mentor: Equal Pay

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Dear BAM Mentor,

Have you got any advice for me concerning HR issues that involve a clash of cultural or Biblical values? I want to pay my workers equally for doing the same job and in Nepal where I run my business, men and women don’t usually receive equal pay. It’s not so much an ethical dilemma for me, but a practical question about how I can approach this well. How do I best communicate and lead my Nepali team (managers and workers) through this issue?

~ Hiring in the Himalayas

Dear Hiring,

I want to humbly submit that the issue here runs deeper than that of pay equality, I believe the root of this issue speaks to gender equality within the workplace and whether we as Christ followers believe it is a biblical value that we are charged to uphold. As a woman who has had a long career in the workplace, I have to say my experience has not always been positive, even with my male co-workers of faith. As people conducting business in a second culture, by all means we must be culturally sensitive, but we must recognize the mandates of our Lord have been corrupted by culture, and we know Jesus came to make all things new. To me, one of the most personal personifications of this ideal was in His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jews did condescend to speak with Samaritans in public, and male Jews were rabbinically prohibited from speaking with women in public to eliminate opportunity for gossip. Yet this beautiful narrative provides a clear example of how He wants us to step outside the boundaries of culture to engage with our world in a restorative manner.

Our lives and how we operate our businesses should speak into the lives of our employees in ways they have never experienced; to lift them up, to value them for their contribution to the business, to recognize their inherent worth as uniquely created and specifically gifted individuals, and thus move them towards reconciliation to the Lord they do not yet know, but whom they can experience through you and your example. How else can we give an answer for the hope that is within us, if our lives and our businesses do not model the life of our redeemer?  We know that in Him we are all equal, thus in our business we must make every attempt to live out that principle.

As a business owner, there are specific job competencies you must define to ensure business success, if you don’t your business will fail. Here is a perfect opportunity to teach the value of paying a fair wage based strictly on the competency of job performance. You need employees – regardless of race, creed or gender – who can demonstrate job competency. These workers should be compensated based on performance, and the metric for how that occurs, as well as the wage associated with performance, should be clearly articulated as a condition for employment. Conversely, expectations and consequences should also be clearly articulated for employees who do not perform according to the defined standards of competency. You should leave no room for interpretation in stating job requirements and compensation. As any wise business person, you should be looking for the best employee for the job, or for the person who can be groomed to become successful in that role. It is a biblical standard to pay a fair wage for a day’s work, as it is a biblical standard to apply appropriate consequences when a job is not performed according to employer requirements (which are fair and equitable). […Read more]

~ Colleene

Dear Hiring,

The first issue that needs to be acknowledged in regards to anything to do with money is how the local community views foreigners working among them. It has been our direct experience, and that of other BAMers that we have talked to, that the mere fact that you are in the country – and can leave at will – indicates that you are filthy rich and can do whatever you want to do. Foreigners, therefore, are often viewed as walking dollar signs no matter who they are.

The Biblical view in Proverb 31 gives us the illustration of the industrious women in a Middle Eastern context going out and buying a field (which my wife did once when I was on a business trip, much to my surprise). It is clear that women are encouraged to be industrious, be self-motivated and be allowed to manage staff if they are able and willing to do so in whatever culture they are in.

Since every situation is different there is no standard answer to making difficult decisions. However, the following steps can be followed in most decision-making situations:

1. There needs to be an agreement on how to proceed among the “key decision makers”, (as far as possible) as to the “correct” course of action. The key decision makers are those that influence and control your local employees. It may not be obvious at all who they are but you must know who they are.

2. How do you achieve this agreement? Most things like this need to be discussed privately. Information and points of view need to be gathered.

3. You, as the boss, cannot do much of this information gathering. If you try and do so you will simply be told what the employees think you want to hear. You need to identify a local, very trustworthy, intermediary who understands how you communicate culturally and how the local folks communicate culturally.

4. Ask your intermediary what issues they are facing in gathering this information and communicating your questions and expectations. If you fail to do this then it is unlikely you will understand the information and opinions they gather.

5. Understand the local decision making process. For example, does “no” really mean “no”?

6. When the information is presented to you make sure you “gently cross-examine” your intermediary to ensure your views and opinions were accurately represented.

7. Once you have all the required information and opinions then the long process of finding a good solution to the issue you are facing starts. Run the various options you come up with past the key decision makers, both privately and perhaps in a group.

8. Once you have decided on a course of action then you must announce it in the appropriate manner. I used to do this in a company-wide meeting so that no one could say they didn’t receive the information. Outline the pros and cons of the decision. This is important to do because your decision will never make everyone happy.

The above approach, however, may need to be altered to suit local circumstances. For example, consulting numerous stakeholders in your adopted culture may not be appropriate – this is up to you to decide. However, this doesn’t give you license to completely ignore other views. The information gathering process needs to be done in one way or another. […Read more]

~ Garry

Dear Hiring,

We carry our worldviews to the workplace. Our worldviews are largely influenced by culture. That being said, biblical values are absolute values and we cannot compromise on them due to cultural differences. Therefore, our response to situations, decision making and expectation of outcomes should be calibrated against biblical values and not just our cultural biases.

Generally speaking, white collar jobs offer equal pay for men and women in most countries. In some organizations men may tend to have higher positions – perhaps supervisory – and therefore draw higher wages. Also, often there are more men in any given organization than there are women and hence the total wages for men as a group would be higher than that of women taken as a group in the same organization. So, the real question is whether there is equitable compensation for men and women who are doing the same job within an organization.

The situation you face in Nepal, is one that has been historically true in many parts of the world. Until the 20th century men often got paid higher wages than women because because physical strength was needed for many of the jobs that were available. It is only after the dawn of the information age and the growth of the services sector that there is growing indication of pay equity for men and women.

It really boils down to whether there is discrimination in pay between men and women performing the same job with the same level of efficiency purely on the basis of gender vis-à-vis an equitable pay structure to all workers within the organization based on responsibility and productivity. It might very well be the case that in certain jobs that involve physical effort, men might be more productive because of physical strength and at other jobs women might be more productive because of better motor skills or dexterity. This gets to the heart of the fact that God has created us differently as men and women, especially in terms of our physical abilities. The best way to recognize these differences, while being fair and in sync with biblical values of recognizing the worth of each individual, is to create a weighing formula for assessing comparable worth and equitable pay.

In my opinion, the issue is not as simple as saying there must be equal pay for all, but to ensure that there is pay equity based on productivity and performance with zero tolerance for gender-based or any other form of discrimination – including religion, given that you are a BAM company.  When this is instituted as a policy and followed without exception in every case, it becomes easier to explain to managers and other co-workers that compensation is tied to productivity because it results in greater profits for the company, rather than some inconsequential factor such as gender, race or religion.

~ Joseph

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