You may think we’re inundated with flimsy PR ‘awareness days’ in this country, but spare a thought for the good old US of A. Over there, April 12 is among other things National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day, National Library Workers Day, National Big Wind Day (not quite sure what that is) and, of course, National Equal Pay Day.
Translated, that’s National Opportunity To Get Some Good PR By Showing How Forward Thinking We Are And Stuff Day. A couple of West Coast giants duly obliged. ‘I’m proud to share that at Facebook, men and women earn the same,’ the social network’s head of HR Lori Goler said, adding that the company conducted regular reviews to compare compensation for similar work.
Microsoft went a step further, revealing that its female employees earn precisely 99.8c for every $1 earned by men for the same work. ‘Having a diverse and inclusive workforce is indeed a powerful bridge to the markets and people we serve,’ wrote Microsoft’s HR chief Kathleen Hogan, adding that there was full parity for racial and ethnic minorities (maybe they have better karma...).
The Silicon Valley and Seattle tech giants haven’t had a great time convincing people of their diversity and inclusion credentials of late. Bad press has ranged from the serious (Ellen Pao’s dismissal lawsuit) to the bizarre (Google’s ‘sexist’ algorithms), but it keeps coming.
Pieces of enlightened self interest like this will help, but they don’t get to the heart of the problem with equal pay – that women are far less likely to be in highly-paid, senior positions than men. For full-time workers in the UK, the gender pay gap for median earnings was 9.4% in 2015 according to the ONS, but if you look at the top 10% of male and female earners (courtesy of the TUC), the difference in pay was 54.9%. This isn’t because women CEOs get paid less, it’s because there are fewer women CEOs.
The problem is particularly acute in tech, which has long been perceived as male-dominated, despite efforts to show that STEM careers can be for women too. There is no quick fix for these issues. There will need to be a shift in attitudes, probably supported by more progressive policies towards parenting and by companies strengthening their talent pipelines.
Microsoft, Facebook and the others are working on these things of course, but they don’t have so much to say yet. For a start, it's not easy to overcome the unconscious biases that managers and interviewers have developed over the years, or indeed to convince someone to join a team where they’re the only woman or the only person from a minority. We may admire trailblazers, but not everyone actually wants to be one. Realistically, change will take time.
Nonetheless, for what it's worth the tech giants should be applauded for demonstrating equal pay for equal work. It might seem outrageous that major companies would actually pay a woman less than a man to do the same job in this day and age, but sadly it’s not improbable. Given how many smaller companies look up to the likes of Facebook as corporate role models, it can only help.