The pay gap between men and women who work in Silicon Valley isn’t as bad as the national average of 20 percent. But it is still significant enough to be noticed in an industry where technology talent is very much in demand and company philosophies of “innovation” and “forward thinking practices” rule the day. And, as a major conference for women held yesterday showed, it won’t require a lot of ground-breaking innovation to close the gap if companies really want to do it.
At the Watermark Conference for Women in San Jose, California yesterday, an audience of 6,500 heard keynotes from female (and a few male) Silicon Valley executives and attended breakout sessions that focused on a host of topics, including the pay gap. Founded in 1993, Watermark is a community of executive women in the Bay Area.
The conference attracted a host of high profile speakers including World Cup Women’s Soccer champion Abby Wambach who has been outspoken about the pay inequality between men’s and women’s soccer. The U.S. Women’s World Cup team who won the championship last year made $2 million, while the men’s winner (Germany) received $35 million. The U.S. men’s team was bounced out of their tournament early. “It’s not rocket science. Do you win gold medals or not?” said Wambach pointedly in remarks to the media before her keynote appearance. “It’s not even just about the money, it’s about respect.”
For women in Silicon Valley, the pay disparity is not as striking as soccer’s, but an “Equal Pay Day” survey recently released by Hired showed that women are paid less than men for the same job at the same company 69 percent of the time. The survey also showed that the average salary offer made to women in tech firms is 3 percent less for women than for men.
Numbers like these are beginning to either prompt changes in some Silicon Valley companies, or stir movements by activist technology investment firms. When two female Salesforce employees challenged CEO Marc Benioff to look at the pay gap within his company last year, it resulted in a $3 million adjustment to the cloud service provider’s payroll to bring women to parity.
Perhaps more significantly, Arjuna Capital is attempting to place a resolution before Microsoft shareholders to force disclosure of the company’s pay scale data for men and women. Arjuna has filed similar shareholder proposals, which will be voted on in the weeks ahead, with a host of other tech companies including Google, eBay and Facebook.
It’s an open question whether these recent shareholder actions will result in meaningful change. But even if they fail, there is already a significant template for action that stretches from the corporate board room to the Oval Office itself.
During a panel discussion at the Watermark Conference yesterday, TIME correspondent Jay Newton-Small described how women who worked in the White House during President Obama’s first term became increasingly frustrated at both the pay gap and their lack of influence in critical policy decisions. At Obama’s urging, the women began to meet together as a group and, on one notable occasion in 2011 described by Newton-Small in her recently-published book, three top female staffers actually barged into the Oval Office to participate in a males-only meeting with the President.
“The West Wing is now totally run by women,” said Newton-Small, but she also acknowledged that a pay gap of 20 percent still exists between male and female White House staffers.
Another presenter, Ginnie Carlier (a top executive with Ernst & Young), described how her request to lead a key part of the company’s business in the Middle East resulted in a decrease in pay even though she had been named a partner in the firm. According to Carlier, she couldn’t even get her transfer approved until another top female executive stepped in to support the move.
“The lesson here is that women need a village of women,” said Victoria Pynchon, the co-founder of a career-advisory firm for women, and moderator of the pay gap panel session. “We forward one another’s interests.”
For Silicon Valley firms and the rest of corporate America, the day of reckoning is approaching. The current “baby boomer” generation will term out of the workforce in less than ten years, which will force businesses to either fill the void with immigrant hiring or bring women into full employment.
“We need to start treating people fairly,” soccer star Wambach told the conference audience yesterday. “Every person in this room has to start rocking their own boat.” For the people who work in Silicon Valley, rocking the boat in the disruptive tech world is becoming second nature. Now it remains to be seen whether it will close the pay gap for women as well.