Reimagining Compensation Decisions Through An Equity Panel

Feb 11, 2020 | Woke @ Work

This blog expands on our two previous blogs about Reimagining Compensation. You can find those blogs here and here. Both of these blogs are part of our longer series about living into values of justice and equity at CompassPoint. Read the other blogs in this series here.


How can an organization build equity in its compensation process through distributed leadership? This piece will share how CompassPoint empowered a peer-led group to provide review and oversight to a compensation process that was designed to build more equity into our system. While there is no universal recipe for building equity (every team is different), my hope is for you, the reader, to use my reflection as a window into our process and possibly uncover some gems that would be helpful in your organization’s journey to break down harmful structures and systems.

As part of an overall process to reimagine compensation to be more equitable at CompassPoint, we created a peer-led team called the Equity Panel. The Equity Panel was a unique team whose composition was meant to challenge the usual voices at the center of decision making around compensation. Our team was made up of three people of color who represented many identities in our organization: two Black women and one man of color whose ages ranged from late twenties to late fifties. The three of us held different positions, ranging from internal to programmatic, and had widely varying levels of tenure (I had been with the organization for a year and the longest-tenured member had been there for more than 20 years). We also came from different class, educational, and religious backgrounds. There was only one thing we had in common—we all have children, and even then, they ranged from infants to school age to adults.

Why were all those differences significant? We all came to the table with very different perspectives. It’s safe to say we weren’t colleagues who did much outside of the office together. Prior to teaming up on Equity Panel, the three of us even had a few interpersonal conflicts. I vividly remember one of the Equity Panel members calling out harmful, racist behaviors they had experienced from another member. My initial thought was, “How are the three of us ever going to come to an agreement on anything? Clearly we are too different.” And was I wrong…

Creating Agreements for our Equity Panel

During the kickoff meeting for the Equity Panel project, we established agreements for how we wanted to engage with the compensation review process—and with each other. We agreed to: “Say it messy” (get it out the best way you know how), keep it real (don’t compromise your own integrity for this group/process), embrace conflict (we’re going to disagree and that’s a good thing), and move as a unit (we do not share information or answer any questions without checking in first.) Our agreements kept us grounded throughout the process. They were the guiding principles for engaging with each other in our work and on a personal level. The deliberation space was one of the safest spaces I’ve experienced at CompassPoint. It was the first time I used my voice without the fear of retaliation. It was that space that helped us realize our hope and desire for a more equitable workplace (and world) brought us closer together than the differences that kept us apart.

How our Compensation Process Worked

As I mentioned earlier, organizations, their people, systems, and structures do not fit into a cookie-cutter. What may have worked for one may not work for another. The steps below were CompassPoint’s way of building equity in our organization’s compensation review process, (but they are not ‘The Way’) :

  • The organization’s management (a combination of finance and operations lead and executive leadership) determined the salary structure that fits into the organization’s business model.
  • Each team member, with support from their practice partner (at CompassPoint, practice partners are not supervisors in the traditional sense, but rather serve as a support to people in navigating an organization with a distributed leadership structure.), used a self-reflection tool to reflect on their contributions to the organization (the level of accountability they were holding, how they are bringing their whole selves to social justice work, and how they are maintaining and developing relationships in pursuit of CompassPoint’s mission.
  • The practice member and partner met with the “Compensation Listener”, who was also the Director of Operations at the time, to discuss the practice member’s review score.
  • The Compensation Listener’s role was to bring a consistent approach to each individual’s compensation review process. From each listening session, the Compensation Listener would compile and synthesize the data and share their recommendations for each practice member’s salary with the Equity Panel.
  • The Equity Panel met to review the recommendations from the team member, practice partner, and Compensation Listener and ultimately either accepted or adjusted the team member’s salary.
  • The Compensation Listener shared the final decisions with the team member and their practice partner.

What Worked?

BALANCING PERSPECTIVES

When developing a peer-led team that would decide on an entire organization’s staff salaries it is important to have executive leadership’s complete support. I’m not only talking about buy-in and resources (although those are necessary too!); we needed a window seat to the full landscape of the entire organization in the way that executive leadership sees it every day. This meant we had to acknowledge the reality that we couldn’t make these big decisions alone. We needed information from everyone, including executive leadership, in order to make fair and equitable decisions. One of the ways we incorporated executive leadership’s perspective is through the Compensation Listener role, filled by CompassPoint’s then Director of Operations. As I mentioned, her role in the review process was to provide salary recommendations based on data gathered through listening sessions with team members and their practice partners. We utilized tools, such as the career framework, to decide whether or not to accept or adjust the salaries she recommended.

LOVE

Although there was conflict and differences, there was also so much love in the Equity Panel spaces—love for each other, love for our colleagues and their families, and love for people that will come after us at CompassPoint. The love that fueled the Equity Panel is an example of a Martin Luther King quote: “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

To this day, I trust the other members of the Equity Panel with my life! They are a part of my family. This project gave us an opportunity to connect, to see the humanity in each other and accept our imperfections and limited perspectives. The work we did outside of the project deepened our relationships. Our conversations deepened beyond the superficial topics like work, current events, and weather. We were giving and seeking feedback and supporting each other through life events. We even attended a multi-day intensive workshop on undoing racism together.

BUILDING TRUST

There was a sense of pride and pressure that came with being a part of a team like the Equity Panel. I knew the power I held in determining a major element of someone’s life—their income. This project was bigger than my colleagues and me. Our decisions had the power to change the entire organization. As Big Worm once said, “Playing with my money is like playing with my emotions.” Our colleagues were trusting us as their peers, to use our knowledge and wis