Demolishing the Gender Pay Gap in Tech: A feminist Perspective

The longstanding gender-based pay gap may best be dismantled with data - the boon (and bane) of the tech industry. Some of the biggest companies like Google and Microsoft have received discrimination complaints and accusations in this category, and have denied anything other than equal pay between male and female employees. The ongoing Department of Labor investigation at Google follows up a class action lawsuit from former employees, after assessing “systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce.” Similarly, Microsoft is being sued by several former employees on the basis that the company “routinely held back women in its workforce by denying raises and promotions.”

Wage gap practices across the innovation sector

Though it has been rare that direct wage data is available from companies themselves, a study released by the innovation career marketplace Hired provides valuable insight into the relationship between industry, role, race, gender, LGBTQ+ status and compensation. Hispanic and Black women are paid the least when comparing wages across race and gender.

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White men are the $1 standard bearer, asian men are paid 99 cents, black men are paid 94 cents with hispanic men being paid the least at 94 cents. White women are paid 96 cents to the straight male dollar, and Asian women are paid 95 cents where black and hispanic women are at 90 cents. 

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While the wage pay gap affects men negatively according to race and LGBTQ+ status, the latter has a different impact on women. While Non-LGBTQ+ men are the $1 standard bearer, where LGBTQ+ men are paid 97 cents, the opposite is true for women. Non-LGBTQ+ women are paid 91 cents to the straight male dollar, but LGBTQ+ women are paid 92 cents. Hired recognizes company efforts to address all orientation and gender identities, but the gaps still exist.

The gender wage gap also increases with age: women have near parity at ages 20-25, but by the time they reach their forties they make 90 cents to the men’s dollar. Hired comes to the conclusion that younger employees have a good idea what fair compensation to ask for, as well as a heightened awareness of potential pay bias and skill value - thus they ask for higher salaries.

One factor that may improve the state of gender wage equality is legislative. California passed a law in late 2017 that forbids hiring companies from asking applicants about their prior salary, and must give requesting applicants a salary range for a specific job. Another factor is open discussion about salary - 66 percent of respondents learned of a pay disparity at the workplace by talking with a colleague. Another potential shifter would affect the candidate pool - 75 percent would be impacted by learning that a company had received negative attention for having a wage gap. This could greatly influence companies to clean up their act, as having access to the best applicants would profoundly affect their ability to hire the best individuals.

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Salesforce CEO commits to internal audit

Even companies with the best of intentions can be participating in the perpetuation of inequality in the workplace. Despite being voted “Best Place to Work” in 2017, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff was faced with a rude awakening after he agreed to a wage gap audit. It was a shock to him that the disparity existed, as Benioff offers employees paid time at schools and charities, emphasizing the importance of social responsibility. But head of HR at Salesforce Cindy Robbins showed him what she was seeing in company records.

Technology and software companies have access to nuanced and specific forms of data, and Salesforce is both. Robbins says, “I'm looking at all forms of data now that I was not looking at a couple years ago in my role. I'm looking at how women and men are given merit increases, stock grants, promotions, and taking a look at, "Is there bias? Is there disparity?" It cost the company $3 million to adjust every job in every department to fix that bias. Even after rectifying the gap, they must still perform continual audits to ensure that their acquired companies don’t reintroduce wage gap behavior. Benioff discovered after a follow up audit that they were another $3 million behind once again a year after the initial calibration.

This calibrating is what Benioff refers to as the one of many steps towards gender equality. Equal opportunity, equal advancement, equal pay - and the fourth step is preventing sexual harassment. This holistic view is why the #MeToo movement has grown to encompass workplace inequality in ways other than sexual assault or advances - it’s a systemic type of sexism that affects women in all aspects of their career.  

The transparency and self-awareness of Salesforce is critical to the quashing of gender-based unequal pay in the workplace. Unfortunately other big players do not seem as committed. But the transparency that employees are practicing on their own, as well as legislative help can speed us towards equality. If we expanded the gender pay gap data transparency to a country wide initiative as done in the UK, we could see trends across companies as well as industries more easily than based on the data available at job hiring sites. Making that data available is crucial - as we all know, “knowing is half the battle.”