Google Finds It’s Underpaying Many Men as It Addresses Wage Equity

A survey of employee salaries at Google reached a surprising conclusion: More men than women were being underpaid. The company acknowledged that the analysis did not address broader issues of gender inequity.

By Daisuke Wakabayashi
March 4, 2019


SAN FRANCISCO — When Google conducted a study recently to determine whether the company was underpaying women and members of minority groups, it found, to the surprise of just about everyone, that men were paid less money than women for doing similar work.

The study, which disproportionately led to pay raises for thousands of men, is done every year, but the latest findings arrived as Google and other companies in Silicon Valley face increasing pressure to deal with gender issues in the workplace, from sexual harassment to wage discrimination.

Gender inequality is a radioactive topic at Google. The Labor Department is investigating whether the company systematically underpays women. It has been sued by former employees who claim they were paid less than men with the same qualifications. And last fall, thousands of Google employees protested the way the company handles sexual harassment claims against top executives.

Critics said the results of the pay study could give a false impression. Company officials acknowledged that it did not address whether women were hired at a lower pay grade than men with similar qualifications.

Google seems to be advancing a “flawed and incomplete sense of equality” by making sure men and women receive similar salaries for similar work, said Joelle Emerson, chief executive of Paradigm, a consulting company that advises companies on strategies for increasing diversity. That is not the same as addressing “equity,” she said, which would involve examining the structural hurdles that women face as engineers.

Google has denied paying women less, and the company agreed that compensation among similar job titles was not by itself a complete measure of equity. A more difficult issue to solve — one that critics say Google often mismanages for women — is a human resources concept called leveling. Are employees assigned to the appropriate pay grade for their qualifications?

The company said it was now trying to address the issue.

“Because leveling, performance ratings and promotion impact pay, this year we are undertaking a comprehensive review of these processes to make sure the outcomes are fair and equitable for all employees,” Lauren Barbato, Google’s lead analyst for pay equity, people analytics, wrote in a blog post made public on Monday.

To set an employee’s salary, Google starts with an algorithm using factors like performance, location and job. Next, managers can consider subjective factors: Do they believe the employee has a strong future with the company? Is he or she being paid on a par with peers who make similar contributions? Managers must provide a rationale for the decision.

While the pay bump is helpful, Google’s critics say it doesn’t come close to matching what a woman would make if she had been assigned to the appropriate pay grade in the first place.
Women and children hardest hit.

NYT