Reminder: Even The Feds Think Google Has A Sexism Problem

Men in Silicon Valley earn up to 61% more than their female peers. Is Google really any different?

Image by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr.

With the culture of sexual harassment at Uber coming to light this spring and the subsequent resignation in late June of the company’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, sexism in Silicon Valley has once more been pushed into the spotlight. It’s well-documented that discrimination against women in tech isn’t only a problem at Uber, and it’s not just a matter of receiving suggestive emails or being excluded from networking opportunities. Women in Silicon Valley, like their peers in plenty of other industries, often end up being paid less than their male counterparts.

You need employee data such as gender, salary, education, and years of experience to prove that a pay gap exists at a company. A decision by a judge on Friday might provide the feds access to information they need to prove alleged pay discrimination at Google.

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]Men in Silicon Valley earn up to 61% more than their female peers.[/quote]

Earlier this year, the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs filed suit against Google and requested 15 years’ worth of information on roughly 25,000 employees. Because Google receives federal contracts, the company is required by law to share data proving that it is in compliance with equal-opportunity laws.

But citing concerns over potential data breaches, Steven Berlin, the judge in the case, ruled Friday that the data the OFCCP requested was “over-broad, intrusive on employee privacy, unduly burdensome and insufficiently focused on obtaining the relevant information.” However, Berlin ruled that Google must still turn over a limited amount of data from 2014, so the OFCCP still has some information to examine.

On Monday, in response to the ruling, Eileen Naughton, Google’s vice president of people operations, wrote on Google’s blog that the company has “complied with various past OFCCP audits in connection with federal contracts, and those audits have not resulted in challenges to our practices.”

But Naughton made an intriguing statement that, given how pervasive the gender pay gap is in America, might be a surprise to some. “Moreover, our own annual analysis shows no gender pay gap at Google,” she wrote. And in a separate blog post in April, the company wrote: “In late 2016, we performed our most recent analysis across 52 different, major job categories, and found no gender pay gap.”

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]It is our job to see whether what they say they are doing is what they are actually doing.[/quote]

It seems Google’s assertion that it doesn’t have a gender pay gap would make it a unicorn in a sea of tech unicorns. A 2015 report by Joint Venture Silicon Valley (PDF) found that “men in Silicon Valley earn up to 61% more than their female peers.” The organization also wrote that “this gender-income gap is more pronounced in Silicon Valley than in San Francisco, California or the United States, and is getting larger over time.” Perhaps that’s why the idea that Google has the gender pay gap completely solved got a side-eye from Joelle Emerson, founder and CEO of diversity consulting company Paradigm. She told CNBC in April that when it comes to the compensation, "it would be a rare organization I've ever encountered that doesn't have issues that it should be addressing.”

Google’s statements also directly contradict allegations made in April by Janet Herold, a San Francisco-based regional solicitor for the Department of Labor. Herold told The Guardian that “the department has received compelling evidence of very significant discrimination against women in the most common positions at Google headquarters.” She also said the evidence so far “indicates that discrimination against women in Google is quite extreme, even in this industry.”

In addition, Janette Wipper, a regional director for the Department of Labor, testified in court in San Francisco that in its examination of Google, “we found systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce,” reported The Guardian.

However, on Google’s blog, Naughton wrote on Monday: “We invest a lot in our efforts to create a fair and inclusive environment for all our employees—across all genders and races.” She added that the judge applauded the “hundreds of millions of dollars” that Google spends of diversity initiatives.

“It’s not enough for Google to say it’s committed to gender pay equity or other diversity initiatives,” Herold told The Guardian on Monday. “It is our job to see whether what they say they are doing is what they are actually doing.”

via Barry Schapiro / Twitter

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