Natalie Stone and Emily Strohm
December 20, 2017 05:30 PM

The drastic pay disparity between Catt Sadler and her E! News co-host Jason Kennedy — who she learned was making “double” her salary for “several years” — is the result of a “cultural norm,” according to a human resources expert.

“Companies are, unfortunately, not obligated to assure that players of either gender are compensated equally,” The Purposeful Culture Group’s Chris Edmonds tells PEOPLE. “Cultural norms have driven companies to classically pay women less — often significantly less — for similar responsibilities, contributions, results, and skills.”

Longtime E! News host Sadler, 43, exited the network on Tuesday after learning that Kennedy, 36, “wasn’t just making a little bit more than me but was making double my salary and has been for several years.” Although Sadler wanted to continue her time at E!, she says E! refused to pay her as much as Kennedy and “didn’t come close — nowhere close, not even remotely close” in matching her salary with his.

In a statement to PEOPLE, an E! spokesperson said on behalf of the network and Kennedy, “E! compensates employees fairly and appropriately based on their roles, regardless of gender. We appreciate Catt Sadler’s many contributions at E! News and wish her all the best following her decision to leave the network.”

Catt Sadler/Instagram

According to Edmonds, “companies may be embarrassed at the discrepancy in compensation but the reality is they’ve ‘gone with the flow’ for decades.”

“Pay secrecy is a cultural norm that protects antiquated and unfair compensation practices. It is not against federal law for employees to discuss their compensation or inquire about others’ compensation in the workplace,” he explains. “Companies may well have specific policies against compensation discussions but such policies — and practices — are against federal law.”

Edmonds recognizes that proactive compensation discussions can pose possible risks to women — including “discontent among team members; bullying from those with the most to lose; demotion; and firing” — but he encourages them to advocate and push for transparency.

“Women shouldn’t wait to find out how fairly they — and their male colleagues — are being paid. They should demand transparency — and companies should provide that transparency,” he recommends. “Transparency is the avenue to clarity, understanding, and — over time — change.”

Although Edmonds notes that “companies are not under any obligation to be transparent,” he affirms that “it’s the right thing to do” and applauds Sadler’s decision.

“Employees — like Catt — must push for transparency first and equality — based on factual data revealed under transparency — next,” he shares.

The single mother of two — she is mom to sons Arion Boyd, 12, and Austin Boyd, 16 — ultimately made the difficult decision to part ways with the network after “a lot of soul-searching.”

“It’s been one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make to step away,” she told PEOPLE.

“I think about this obligation that I now have, which very much informed my decision that I too have to be an agent of change. And if I stay and do the easy thing, I don’t serve myself and I don’t serve every other female in the world. It was really, these are the conversations I’ve had with myself and my friends and my family and my team,” she said.

Added Sadler: “It’s like I now feel inspired and empowered by these women before me who refused to be silent. And I now join them in what I believe to be a very important movement towards creating change.”

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