Impact Series

Discovering and fixing the hidden causes of pay gaps between genders and races

In April 2019, Lean In Seattle hosted an equal pay event for women. This week, the chapter is for the first time holding an event on pay equity focusing on black women. (Nadezda Zavitaeva Photo)

If you’re a woman working in the tech sector, odds are you’re making roughly the same salary as a male employee in a comparable role with a similar background and expertise.

That’s the good news.

But that’s if you’re in a comparable role — and therein lies the bigger disparity. Women as a group aren’t in the same roles as men in tech. As a result, across the industry, women on average are earning 87 cents to the $1 earned by men, according to a PayScale analysis of current data.

“The disparity in pay that exists between any groups — gender or race — is a disparity in power and it’s a disparity in who’s advancing in organizations and getting to positions of leadership,” said Lydia Frank, PayScale’s vice president of corporate and product marketing.

When you add race to the gender divide, the chasm widens. Black, Hispanic and American Indian women earn 74 cents to the $1 earned by white men when comparing workers across all sectors who hold at least a bachelor’s degree.

On Thursday, Lean In Seattle is organizing Black Women’s Equal Pay Day Event to talk about the causes of the disparities and how to narrow the gap. PayScale, a Seattle-based company that provides compensation management software and services, is hosting the gathering at its downtown headquarters. It’s the first time the Seattle chapter has focused specifically on black women’s pay issues.

Amelia Ransom, senior director of engagement and diversity at the tax software company Avalara, is speaking at the event.

“I really hope I can awaken women’s voices, particularly younger women’s voices,” Ransom said. She hopes to help fellow black women build community and support each other in asking for the pay and promotions that they deserve. “They have to start talking with each other, openly and honestly, and not seeing each other as competition.”

Laura Espriu, member of the Lean In Seattle leadership team and founder of Latinas in Seattle Lean In Circle, speaking at the April 2019 Lean In Seattle pay equity event. Espriu has also organized an equal pay event specifically for Latinas. (Nadezda Zavitaeva Photo)

Ransom is working with Avalara’s leadership to do its own pay equity study of its 2,000 employees to look for disparities and correct them.

“We are at the point where executive and senior leaders are saying, ‘Wow, it might be uncomfortable when we find out, but we have to find out,’” she said.

Others in the tech sector are also showing leadership in gender and racial pay equality. Last year, Washington state passed the Equal Pay Opportunity Act with backing from the Washington Technology Industry Association, Seattle-based software company Moz and others. Amazon and Microsoft were supportive of the pay equity concept as a whole, but had reservations about specifics of the bill, according to the law’s main sponsor in an earlier GeekWire interview.

Key components of the legislation include an applicant’s ability to keep private her or his salary history and the requirement that employers provide employees in comparable roles the same career advancement opportunities.

Those rights are important because the differences in pay can sneak into steps all along the hiring and promotion process, from recruitment practices, to starting salary, to the approval of raises, to moving up the corporate hierarchy.

Chris Martin, Starbucks senior manager, and Neiha Arora, Starbucks senior recruiter, on a panel at Lean In Seattle’s April 2019 pay equity event. (Nadezda Zavitaeva)

PayScale last month drilled into the effects of sponsorship on wages. Sponsors are decision-makers in a company who actively work to provide opportunities to an employee, helping foster her or his professional advancement.

Here again, gender and race mattered, according to a PayScale survey of 98,000 workers earlier this year:

  • Overall, workers with sponsors earn 11.6 percent more than those without
  • 60 percent of total respondents have a sponsor, but only 55 percent of black and Hispanic women have one
  • Females with female sponsors make 14.6 percent less than females with male sponsors
  • Black women who have black sponsors make 11.3 percent less than those who have white sponsors; Hispanic women with Hispanic sponsors make 15.5 percent less than Hispanic women with white sponsors

“There has to be a focus on who is getting opportunities within organizations to advance,” Frank said. “Ultimately your earning potential overall is influenced by your career path and trajectory.”

Other research by PayScale — which can tease trends from a database of 55 million compensation profiles — has looked at who asks for raises and whether they get them. The data revealed that people of color were more likely to get a ‘no’ than their white counterparts. The work on raises, sponsorship and other career points highlights the numerous places where bias, unconscious and otherwise, shapes pay outcomes.

Companies including PayScale and startup Syndio Solutions, as well as SameWorks and Gapsquare, are all tackling the wage disparity challenge.

Ransom emphasizes the importance of not lumping women into one monolithic category when considering these issues, but remembering that experiences vary widely and are affected by race, sexual orientation, religion and other differences.

People talk about “women and minorities as if you can’t be both,” said Ransom. She urges people to be mindful of groups who are being overlooked.

“As we really think, ‘How we can move and progress together?’ we have to look back to see who is not there and bring them along,” Ransom said. “We all have privilege. How do we use it to help amplify the voices of other people?”

Black Women’s Equal Pay Day Event: Aug. 15 from 6-8 p.m. (doors open at 5:30). PayScale, 1000 1st Ave. S., Seattle

Editor’s Note: Funding for GeekWire’s Impact Series is provided by the Singh Family Foundation in support of public service journalism. GeekWire editors and reporters operate independently and maintain full editorial control over the content.

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