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Creating Pay Equity in the Workplace

By OpenComp


On this episode of High Growth Matters, we talk with Traunza Admas about equity in the workplace and how to operationalize it.

Traunza Adams has been a Chief People Officer, advisor, and executive leader at companies large and small — from startups to Salesforce, AppDynamics and SAP.

Join us as we discuss:

  • How loving on our people helps businesses thrive
  • A 4-step framework HR heads and managers can use to scale and reinforce equity
  • How to empower candidates and teams to determine which companies are serious about equity
  • Pay equity, pay equity, pay equity!



CAITLIN ALLEN: Welcome to High Growth matters an open comp podcast for influential players in the pre IPO ecosystem. This show shares insider knowledge about building a badass business and the expert conversation you're about to hear. We'll cover everything you need to know about hiring and retention, fundraising, leadership, diversity, and more. Let's get to it. Hi, everyone. Today, we are talking with Triana Adams, who has been a chief people officer, I think four times as well as an advisor and executive leader at many companies beyond that. So deep expertise, and we're going to dive into all things equity, and what that means in terms of operationalizing it in your growth organization, transit, thank you for coming and being here. And welcome.


TRAUNZA ADAMS: Thanks for inviting me.


CAITLIN ALLEN: Of course, would love to just start out with asking maybe for a SparkNotes version of your background. You know, if you're from Canada, I found out you actually call it pulls notes, but SparkNotes version of your background, including one or two things that the average person may not know about you.

TRAUNZA ADAMS: Yeah, so you know, I've been in business for about 30 years. 28 of those have been in a leadership position doing people operations, and I recently left being in house in order to focus more on doing volunteer work, doing some advising for startups, working on projects that I'm passionate about, one of which is a foundation that my family has an Educational Foundation, where we are focused on giving scholarships to underrepresented individuals. So but in my business career, I have been mostly in tech, lots of flavors of that enterprise software, Ed Tech, Fin tech, health tech, and mostly on the startup side I was at a company called AppDynamics got acquired by Cisco, at a company called Ginger we got acquired by our merged with headspace health. I was at a company called due to health so you know, startups but also larger companies. I spent time at Oracle, I spent time at Salesforce. I also spent about six years in the nonprofit world, and a company called an agency called Seneca family for agencies that worked with emotionally disturbed children. So yeah, that's a little bit about my background, a couple things people may or may not know. So my first paying job was washing out trash cans. So my father was an entrepreneur and had his own CPA firm. And so he paid me I think it was 25 cents per trashcan, he would bring them home from the office, and I would wash them out. And that was my very first paying job in love it. And my first post college job was actually it was at Oracle and I worked in the mailroom. So I delivered mail, it was a stepping stone into understanding business, understanding the company. And that was kind of the model they had at the time. And I think you know, what I've learned from those experiences is that no job is too small. And all jobs are important.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Really well said, my, my first job actually was filing for my father, who was also an entrepreneur, and similarly taught me how how important it is that you be organized in the small ways. And I love the variety of your career. I think it lends a very holistic view to some of your opinions and your expertise, and also said this before, but I think it's so courageous to take a break and transition to things that you're passionate about something many of us dream to do, and few of us are brave enough to do. So kudos to you on that one.

TRAUNZA ADAMS: It's probably the best decision I've ever made. And that says it doesn't have to be able to spend time when you still have the energy and the resources to do things that you're really passionate about. It's kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity that takes so


CAITLIN ALLEN: yeah, I'm so glad you did. You made a comment in our prep call transit about we were talking about the economy and how growth organizations are responding or need to respond. And you made a comment that was particularly salient in my opinion. You said now is the time to be loving on our people to take care of our people. Can you talk a little bit to why that is and how it relates to our topic today of the importance of equity.

TRAUNZA ADAMS: Yeah, so if we think about what we've been through over the past couple years, so 2020 Obviously the pandemic hit. There were lots of layoffs and fewer people were transitioning out right so people were kind of staying put. And that went through you know, a lot of 2021 but towards the end of 2021, the pandemic pan panic had kind of died down. We started to see more transitions and we got into 2022. And as we know, you know, we started talking about the great resignation, people reevaluating their priorities, their values. The CEO of LinkedIn, Ryan Ross Lansky called it the great reshuffle. So people moving around, there are lots of transitions and some people leaving the workforce entirely. And then now, where are we are, we it kind of feels a little bit like 2020, where we're seeing a lot of layoffs, especially in tech, venture capital is being more focused and more conservative and what they're investing in. And so, you know, we might think that people are staying put, and that they're happy to have a job. And so that, you know, as leaders, we can focus less on engagement, and retention. But couple things, strong qualified people almost always can get a job. And they're somewhat impervious to what the economic conditions are. And those are obviously the people that you want. And then if you think about what you know, your company probably did, during all of these all this time, from 2020. Until now, you've continued to hire your mission critical positions, well, your competitors are doing the same thing. And the likelihood that the people who are mission critical for them that they're looking for are the same people that are mission critical for you. You don't want to lose those people. And if you think about if you are in a situation where you've laid off recently, the people you have now those are the ones you really want, and need. So that's why now is actually a really critical time to be loving in our people.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Yes. And that makes so much sense. It makes sense. Intuitively, it makes sense from a dollars perspective, because of the the dollars that go behind hiring new folks. So yes, all around.

TRAUNZA ADAMS: So, you know, I know I made that statement. And people might be wondering, well, what does that mean? Yeah, mean to be loving on our people? Well, in a nutshell, that means making sure that they know they're valued, they're supported, they're respected, they're appreciated, that they are important to the business, and that they're important to you. And if I can just slip in a book recommendation here, called the five languages of appreciation in the workplace. And Paul white, you know, that one you read Chapman wrote it.


CAITLIN ALLEN: I didn't know he'd written any others. That's fabulous.


TRAUNZA ADAMS: Yeah. Yeah. So you know, if you need some help thinking about how do I show appreciation to my employees, it's, it's a good read. And one, one thing I like to think about, I call it the power of the personal, but don't underestimate the power of the personal when people know that you care about them, and that you're not just a resource. And honestly, Caitlin, that's why I don't like or use the term human resources because like, who wants to feel like a resource. But when your people know that you really care about them personally and professional Lee, it's, it's tangible, how much more discretionary effort they'll give, to their work and to the team. So you know, yeah, so that's the idea of what, what, what loving on your people means. I recently attended a webinar by this company called glint, which is a people analytics research and platform, and they recently got acquired by Microsoft, but they did this study in 2022. So recent 350 million survey responses. And they were asking the questions around what people need to thrive in their workplace. And they landed on six what they called people success elements, which are purpose, growth, clarity, empowerment, well being, which, of course, was huge during pandemic, people wanted to feel like they were safe at home and safe at work, and connection. Now, those last two people might be saying, that's that touchy feely stuff. But here's what the data showed that glint uncovered, they showed that when people felt cared for when they felt valued, when they felt supported, their level of engagement was three times higher than those who didn't feel that way. And what we know is when people are more engaged, they're more productive, they produce higher quality work, which translates into better business results. So doing this you know, lovin on our people, it there, it really is a business imperative to invest that kind of, to creating that kind of atmosphere where people feel like they want to give that discretionary effort,


CAITLIN ALLEN: when 350 million is not a small number either. So that's pretty vetted result there.


TRAUNZA ADAMS: Yeah. And that was over 1000 Different companies in various industries.


CAITLIN ALLEN: Okay, thank you. What transit what would you say the role of equity which is our topic today? How does equity play a role in loving our people and helping businesses thrive?

TRAUNZA ADAMS: So first let's talk about what equity is. Because, yeah, people aren't always clear on that, in the past, we talked a lot about equality and equality is everybody gets the same thing. Everybody gets the same. And we thought, you know, that was good. But soon, we started talking about equity. And we talked about it mainly in terms of hiring and pay, like gender pay equity. And we talk about equity in terms of stock options, company ownership, but equity is actually bigger than that, you know, what it really means is that we take actions that will enable us to have an inclusive workplace, and one where people feel like they belong. So if you're talking about an equitable practice, what that really means is understanding what people's individual needs are and what their starting point is, and then providing what each person needs so that they can be competitive and hopefully, ultimately successful. So if you think about, think about track and field, I don't know if you ran track. Yeah, okay. So then you know, this, when you have a track, people don't start at the same place on a track. The starting blocks are staggered, why, because the the lanes are not equidistant. And so adjustments are made to compensate for the differences in the distances. And that's what I mean by giving people what they need, that they can be competitive. And it may mean, removing obstacles, it may mean providing opportunities, it may mean investing in them in terms of learning and development, or exposure, or really importantly, investing your time. That's what, that's what equity is. And it's logical, right? People want to be treated equitably. They want to know that they and of course, everybody else on the team are going to be rewarded and recognized in a way that's commensurate with their contributions. And people want to know that their unique contributions are appreciated, because not everybody contributes in the same way. But if you think about it, Caitlin, once people are secure, in that this kind of knowledge, they can stop being distracted by am I getting what I deserve? Is my manager going to support me? Does anybody care about me? And they can focus on how can I add more value? Which is, of course, where you want people's heads that right? You know, and they know that adding more value benefits the company, the team, and it benefits them?

CAITLIN ALLEN: makes so much sense? A lot of sense. So what it tactically then how does that definition transit get built into policies and practices that that support the larger goal that's above pay equity, that's above equity of the stock option? How does that get built?

TRAUNZA ADAMS: Yeah. So of course, all of our policies and practices should be equitable. But how can we ensure that right, so the framework that I use, there's four foundational guidelines around how to ensure our practices are equitable. And I'm going to talk about those and then I'll go through an example to kind of make it more concrete. So the first one is to be intentional. The second one is to be aware of our potential biases, because we all have them. The third one is to apply the golden rule, we all learn that growing up treat others as the way you want to be. And the fourth one is to apply the platinum rule, which is to treat others the way they would want to be treated. Now, that was a little bit trickier. Because how do you know how somebody wants to be treated? Well, there's a simple way to know ask them. Ask them listen, listening Crazy, right? We, you know, it's so elemental, but we don't always do it. It's not always intuitive that we can bring people into the problem space. But if we have taken the time to bring diversity onto our team, then we need to be open to bringing in those different perspectives, because there's no point in having different diversity in your team if you're not going to exploit it. So let me give an example. And let's talk about something that people are kind of struggling with right now, which is how to ensure that everybody has professional development and career opportunities when you have a hybrid workplace. Okay. So I want to send another study. I was a sociologist in college and I love studies. Yeah, so in November 2021. Future Forum which is a research consortium that was set up by slack, they surveyed over 5000 knowledge workers, so the kinds of people that we see In, you know, tech companies in the US, they surveyed them about their desire to work from home remote hybrid, all that. And what they found is that women and people of color, there were a higher percentage of those demographics that preferred being hybrid or being remote than white men, or white men preferred being an office co located. And there's lots of reasons why that is, which is a whole other conversation. But we'll just stop with that. That was the data. And if you're a company that took advantage of being able to hire remotely, so that you have a lot more demographic diversity on your team, you probably have a lot more underrepresented people who were not where your headquarters is, or where your offices are, than you had before. So if that's the case, how do we make sure that we are being equitable and providing those people opportunities? Okay, so first thing being intentional. So, being open to the fact being intentional is being open to the fact that sometimes we do things that are accidentally inequitable, and that we have to be intentional in ensuring that we're being equitable, which means we can't just pull a policy off the internet and call it a day. Because just because it's on the internet doesn't mean it's good policy does not mean it's going to treat your people equitably. So, first thing is being intentional about it. The second thing is acknowledging our biases. And the one I want to talk about here is what we call proximity bias. So proximity bias. That's the idea that employees or people that are in close proximity to the team or to managers, they're perceived as being better performers, better workers than the remote employees, it's a little bit of out of sight, out of mind. And so the people that are in close proximity to you as the manager, they get offered more opportunities, better opportunities, that are rewards that are advancement. And that's particularly problematic, if what we talked about before you hired people and you're underrepresented people are the people who aren't co located. And what you have in your offices are is more heavily weighted towards white men. So that proximity bias could could really kind of destroy your your DEI efforts. And just is not fair. So the bias says, well, these people are more productive. But back at that survey that I talked about that future form did. The survey showed that the people who were remote, they felt more productive, more energized, and more engaged when they were working from home. Now, that was their self assessment. But even if you don't have objective measures of protect productivity, which sometimes in the knowledge base, it's hard to have an objective measure of productivity or output. Ask yourself, when I look at the relative contributions, is this remote person really less qualified than this person that I see every day? Can I back up my perception with any data. So basically, it's around, acknowledge that you may have a bias and then do some things in your head to check your bias and get some data. So maybe you don't get some data. So when I was at Salesforce, and also add you to our promotion policy, require the manager to do a write up about why, you know, they felt like this person was qualified, but it also required them to get peer feedback. So they had to go out and ask people that this person has worked with, you know, what their feedback was about their performance, about the output, about their suitability for the promotion. And then the third step was they had to present to a committee. So it wasn't just one person, or just the manager deciding that this person needs is deserving of this new opportunity they had to present to a committee. And the point of that was really to help mitigate biases, because sometimes it's hard to see your own bias. And the more involvement we had, and the more outside data we had, it was more likely that we could we could mitigate bias. If you're a larger company, then, you know, you can collect data, and you can look at the promotion rates between your remote employees. And you're in often in office employees, most of us don't have companies that are that large. So, you know, that's, that's harder data to collect. So that's number two. That was number three. Number four, is to sorry, number three is to remember the golden rule. So ask yourself, how would I want to be treated if I were remote? What would make me feel included, respected and valued? What opportunities would I want my manager to ensure that that I knew about and then the last one is to remember the platinum rule, which again was asking, listen, so talk to your remote employees, what opportunities are you interested in? How do you want to grow, how can I better support you as a team member. So, if you use these lenses at, you know, when you're creating policies like the one we just talked about, which is making sure that people who are about have opportunities, that will take you a long way to creating an environment where people are treated equitably. And in this example, we talked about remote employees, you should do this with all your employees. But especially the ones that are in situations where they may need a little bit more investment or attention.

CAITLIN ALLEN: And I would imagine that this is something that really the framework is something that can be used by people or people ops organization, people success org. But then it's supported deeply by the managers that are mid level in the org as well.

TRAUNZA ADAMS: Yeah, I mean, these things that I talked about, it's, you know, the people ops team is creating the policy, but it's the managers who are actually doing the work and executing on the policy so and ultimately making the decisions, right, so it really does lie on the shoulders of the managers, when the rubber meets the road to make sure that they're being intentional. They're checking their biases, they're asking questions, and absolutely no,

CAITLIN ALLEN: Traunza on the flip side, so not people, ops, not managers, but the on the side of employees and candidates through their lens, to say, I'm an employee somewhere. And I want to assess my organization for its level of equity or even a job seeker. Maybe I'm one of those, those top the top talent group that that can actually find a job, I'm at any season in time. What should I as that candidate or that employee be looking for, you know, what are the diagnostic questions that I can ask? That really helped me land in the right spot?

TRAUNZA ADAMS: Yeah. I mean, it's hard to know when you're going outside, right, if you don't really know what it's like inside, there's a couple of signals that you can assess, though, one thing that I always do is look at what the makeup of the executive and leadership teams are. So first of all, does this even look like a place that values diversity, that values different perspectives? Like who's on who's on the leadership team? Who are the decision makers? Are there people in positions of authority that you know, might have some sensitivity or some hyper vigilance around equity issues. So that's the first thing and you can go on the website, you can go on LinkedIn, and kind of suss through that. A second thing I would recommend is to when you're going through the interview process, to ask the interviewer hard questions, ask them, What have you done to ensure that everyone on your team is being treated equitably? See what they said? Ask them what they've seen the company do. Listen to what they're talking about. Are they talking about pay equity? Are they talking about providing opportunities to underrepresented people, remote people? Are they talking about how they over index on communication? Because of the environment that they have? You know, ask those questions and just see what answers you get.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Okay, so again, the listening theme, I'm really liking this.


TRAUNZA ADAMS: The third, the third thing that I would recommend, is to ask to speak to people who aren't on the interview panel. So this is something that we did at Buddha, we, it was, after we had given somebody an offer, we said to them, is there anybody else you want to talk to you. And we originally put that in our process, because we were working really hard to bring in to diversify our team. And we were looking at demographic diversity, like people of color, and women. And so we wanted to make sure that they understood that we were serious about that. And maybe on the interview panel, there may not have been somebody who they can relate to, or who they thought would really give them the inside scoop on how this company has actually run because you know, it was the interview situation. So that's why we waited till after they had been given an offer. So you know, they didn't feel like they had that writing on the line. And we said, anybody you want to talk to let me know, we'll put you in touch. You want to talk to a woman, you want to talk to a person of color, you want to talk to somebody who's remote, talk to somebody who is a parent, I'm going to talk to somebody who has just built whatever it was. And after it only took us a couple of weeks to realize we should be offering this to all of our employees because we don't know what's in people's heads. And just to show that we are an open place and to run open book and to give them the opportunity to assuage any fears that they have about you know, are we equitable? Are we this sorry that so even if the company are interviewing with doesn't offer that I would ask.

CAILTIN ALLEN: Yeah, that's great. I love it. And I think that's a really good takeaway for the hiring manager to give to their potential candidates as well as a gift. I really like that a lot. I think listening and conversation gets get this so much farther than many things just simply because it's sharing. In terms of managers, empowering their teams, transit is here apart from telling, sharing the questions with them that you just shared yourself, are there is there anything else that managers should be conscious of doing to empower their teams, whether it's employees or candidates or managers themselves, to assess the organizations that they're part of or looking to join?

TRAUNZA ADAMS: So I think that it's important to create an environment where people feel safe, that they can express their opinion and speak up. So you know, if you're a manager of a team, you know, do you ask people to give you feedback? No, often we think the manager's job is to give people feedback. And that's true. But it's really powerful. When you're the manager to ask people, What can I be doing better. And what it helps to create is a is a relationship of trust. And when you have that kind of relationship of trust, and people are going to come to you when something is bothering them, or something's not right, you'll be able to head off problems at a time, if they feel like they are being treated inequitably, or they see something that's inequitable and going on, they will feel comfortable coming to you, if you have made yourself if you've been authentic, and let them know that that invited them to give you that kind of information. So that that is the best piece of advice I can give to managers is, you know, solicit solicit feedback from your employees and take it seriously. And, you know, be prepared for what you're going to hear. And when you hear information, act on it. That's the other thing is that if people give you information, and then you don't act on it, they're not likely to continue giving you it?


CAITLIN ALLEN: Of course, yes. You know, to, to small anecdotes are coming to mind. My team, we do quarterly reviews and their self assessment, peer review, 360 review for the Oregon and through for the manager. And to that point of just asking for feedback yourself, I have got a piece of feedback from one of my direct reports. That wasn't huge, but it was hugely valuable. If that makes sense. He let me know that he actually really prefers feedback in the moment rather than in one on one. So if there's something constructive, I was saving it for the prior week, and he let me know he really likes it right in the moment. And he's a top performer on our team. So it was I was so glad I got the piece of feedback, because it helps me know how to help him thrive. I 100% agree on that. And then the other thing that that we've been trying that's been so valuable is something we're calling growth chats where the whole team gets together. The whole marketing team gets together every three months, every quarter, and six are answers similar questions like what was your favorite moment, least favorite moment? What's one thing you would change the team and then you would change the organization. And it has ranked in our surveys as their favorite moments of all of the quarter. And to your point, it gives very tactical things of like, oh, the team wants to know, meeting day, or you some things that you can act on right away that if I was locked in an ivory tower, I'm not sure I would have the pulse always to intuit it. So I think your your advice has been very valuable for me and both of those channels.

TRAUNZA ADAMS: Yeah. And it sounds like you're doing some really great things with your team. Q. They're a great team. That's, that's Platinum Rule stuff.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Gonna use that. I feel like that's a good parenting parenting lesson. But I digress. Last question, transit, and then we're going to wrap it up. But if there was one golden nugget, from the things that you have shared today, there have been many what is the one thing you want listeners to remember today?

TRAUNZA ADAMS: Yeah, I think you know, although we've talked about this being a particularly important time to ensure that, you know, we're loving on our people and doing things that focus on engagement and retention. Just remember, it's, it's always the right time to let people know that you appreciate them. And it's always the right time to practice equity. So don't wait until you know there's a crisis or whatever. Make this part of your day to day culture, the things that you do automatically, it will pay off in spades. So if you don't take away anything else, take away that.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Okay, well, thank you. And in that vein, this has been particularly valuable. So thank you so very much for taking the time to share your expertise and knowledge with us.

TRAUNZA ADAMS: You are welcome. It's been really fun.


CAITLIN ALLEN: That has. Alright folks, we'll catch you next time. To win top talent while strengthening runway with open comm 1000s of the world's fastest growing companies use our compensation intelligence platform because it offers the most competitive benchmarks and insights available. To learn more visit app dot open up thanks for listening to high growth matters an open comp podcast stay connected with us by subscribing to the show in your favorite podcast player and if you like what you hear, give us some five star love so we can keep serving up the latest info to help you keep building a badass company. Until next time


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