Wed, Mar 09, 2016 - Page 9 News List

Silicon Valley’s gender problem extends beyond the pay gap

Companies such as Arjuna are beginning to take action to address pay inequality, but demographic data do not tell the full story of women’s experiences

By Suzanne McGee  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Mountain People

Microsoft Corp chief executive Satya Nadella earned infamy for his declaration that women should not bother to ask for pay raises. Instead, he suggested in October 2014, they should have faith that the system will reward them appropriately. Refraining from asking for a raise, he added, is actually “good karma.”

When his remarks were greeted with howls of outrage, Nadella backpedaled at the speed of light. Less than a year later, Microsoft was sued by a former employee, Katie Moussouris, now chief policy officer at HackerOne, alleging gender bias.

Moussouris claimed that she was only one of a number of women at Microsoft who earned less than their male counterparts. Moussouris also alleged that men received preferential treatment in promotions and systematically received more favorable performance reviews.

There is no way to know whether Moussouris’ claims are accurate, because Microsoft does not disclose any data about the extent to which men and women are paid differently for doing similar jobs.

That might soon change, if Arjuna Capital succeeds in placing a resolution before Microsoft’s shareholders and convincing enough of them to vote in favor of it, requiring the company to publicly disclose that information for the first time and helping women make up their minds whether it is really enough to trust to karma or not.

Arjuna, the activist arm of Baldwin Brothers, an investment advisory firm, is targeting seven high-profile technology firms in search of precisely this information.

Shareholders of eBay, Expedia, Facebook and Alphabet are to vote on proposals that would result in the creation of reports detailing the percentage pay gap between male and female employees, spelling out both corporate policies, in an attempt to address how the companies would set about closing or narrowing that gap, and specific targets.

Arjuna is still discussing getting the proposal on to the agenda of Adobe Systems’s annual meeting and the draft resolution has just been presented to Microsoft, which meets in December.

A seventh company — Amazon.com — is fighting back. Its lawyers argue that the request to report on plans to reduce the gender pay gap is “impermissibly vague and misleading” since — believe it or not — there are too many possible definitions of “gender pay gap” available.

Amazon, it seems, is struggling with the definition of gender pay gap and cannot figure out how it would do this properly. Yes, really. It is asking the US Securities and Exchange Commission for permission to leave the proposal off its ballot.

Anyone who has looked in even a cursory fashion at the economics of the technology universe should not be surprised by the existence of a gender pay gap. Joint Venture Silicon Valley reported last year that men in Silicon Valley reported earning as much as 61 percent more than their female counterparts.

Of course, some of that happens because women do not have the same skills and do not hold the same kinds of high-paid positions, but as top technology chief executives such as Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com and Brian Krzanich of Intel Corp have discovered, sometimes to their astonishment, it is sometimes due to internal pay policies.

Benioff launched what he called the “women’s surge” after recognizing that all his senior staff members were men, but when two of his senior women came to him to point out that many women probably were being paid less than their male counterparts, in the wake of a review of all 16,000 salaries company-wide he was stunned to realize they were right. That is now being corrected, one salary at a time.

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