I’ve been troubled since Patricia Arquette’s impassioned plea for equal pay at the Academy Awards.
It made me realize that I, an executive at a major Silicon Valley tech firm, don’t actually know whether or not I earn the same salary and benefits as my male peers, or whether my company, wholesale, pays women and men equally for the same work.
It is insanely, infuriatingly, unacceptably wrong that companies are not held accountable for gender pay equity. The lack of diversity in the tech sector is well documented: Harvard Business Review reported in October 2014 that 41% of women in technology fields leave within their first decade of employment, compared with 17% of men. Yet the pay gap does not get the attention it must.
What do we gain if more of us join tech companies only to be paid the same degrading 81% of our male counterparts’ salaries? That this is a few cents higher than the overall U.S. income gender disparity of 78 cents to every dollar a man earns is little comfort.
The time has come for change, and the tech industry, especially in Silicon Valley, should lead for three key reasons:
There’s momentum. Like Arquette, Intel has taken a stand, establishing a $300 million fund to improve workforce diversity, attract more women and minorities to tech and improve their retention. And at my own company, SAP, we have a goal of 25% women in leadership positions by 2017, so we created LEAP (Leadership Excellence Acceleration Program) to develop that talent pipeline. These moves challenge other tech leaders to follow suit.
Tech needs women. Industry group Code.org says computing jobs will more than double by 2020 to 1.4 million. We are in a position to negotiate. If we don’t, by some estimates, we could lose up to $1 million over a 40-year career. It’s time to say, “No” to companies that won’t pay us what we deserve.
“We are here to make a dent in the universe,” as Steve Jobs expressed so beautifully. Tech professionals, he said, are “creating a completely new consciousness” and “rewriting the history of human thought.”
We who live and breathe innovation, who succeed only by imagining new realities, must channel our world-changing energies into fixing this most essential of injustices. If not us, who?
We can start to make a change if the tech companies that report diversity numbers extend that transparency to the percentage difference in pay between genders (and whites vs. other minority groups, etc.). Let’s develop a pay-gap scorecard and see how well these companies perform. Marissa, Meg and Ginni, I challenge you to set the precedent.
We can start to make a change if more male tech leaders are persuaded, as Intel CEO Brian Krzanich was, to take action in part for the sake of his teenage daughters.
“I want them to have a world that’s got equal opportunity for them,” he told The New York Times.
Indeed, there is fascinating research correlating companies that offer fairer pay with male CEOs who have daughters. So, Satya Nadella and others, if economic justice in and of itself doesn’t sufficiently inspire you, do it for your family. And know that if you don’t, when my smart-as-hell 13-year-old daughter enters the workforce, she will not bring her talent to you.
And we can start to make a change because the numbers may just be on our side.
The pay gap closed more quickly in the 1980s and 1990s in part because of the tremendous influx then of female college graduates into the workforce, according to the American Association of University Women (AAUW).
So, although the pace of change has slowed as this new reality became status quo, we may be able to crank up the momentum again with the dual increases in demand for tech workers and Millennials entering the workplace. Indeed, these (largely) justice-loving, fair-minded young folks will be the largest segment of the U.S. workforce by 2020.
I am grateful for the wake-up call and I challenge Silicon Valley to lead in taking a concept whose time has come and innovating its success.
I will take to heart, and challenge all of us to do the same, this truth: if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
Originally published on usatoday.com