Guest Article: The Gender Pay Gap: Employee Engagement by Forest Handford

By:Lucy Neal

Guest Article: The Gender Pay Gap: Employee Engagement by Forest Handford

Read a truly insightful artcile by Forest Handford:

My first job after college was at a medical software company called MEDITECH. I stayed with that company for 16 years, oblivious to how impressive the company’s gender, LGBTQIA+, and racial inclusion was. During my time at MEDITECH I had an Iranian co-worker, a Hispanic employee, a lesbian peer, multiple female bosses (including two vice presidents), and a handful of female employees. While neither of us were out at the time, I even employed a transgender woman! What are the odds of a closeted trans woman working for another closeted trans woman? We publicly transitioned around the same time and she still works at MEDITECH.

Medical software tends to attract more women than other portions of the industry. I was completely oblivious, not only to the need to be a feminist, but how good I had it, until I saw how bad my next job was.

MEDITECH was about 45 years old when I left and had over 5,000 employees. I moved onto a company with 500 employees that was 10 years old. I joined this company about two years after their IPO. I was excited to join the company because it was a huge opportunity for me to work with modern DevOps tools and practices. My manager was a woman who I still feel inspired by.

After several months at this second company I realized I was a cultural mishire. There was no way I would have ever transitioned at that company. I saw women mistreated and mansplained to. For me, the final straw was when my manager was demoted by our VP. I believe that had she been male she wouldn’t have been demoted. This caused many of us frustration with our VP, who I suddenly reported directly to. It was during this upheaval that a head-hunter reached out to me about Affectiva.

I didn’t expect to get an offer from Affectiva. It was a tough decision, as I felt like leaving the other company so soon would have been unfair. While there were things, and people, I was uncomfortable with, I had made a lot of close friends who I didn’t want to leave.

Beyond giving me a good offer, I saw that Affectiva was co-founded by two women and had three female executives. I asked a lot of questions about diversity, which I suspect confused my interviewers because it was years before I publicly transitioned. While my questions got good answers, the one question I didn’t ask, and soon regretted not thinking of, was how many women were on the engineering team I would be joining. On my first day I discovered there had been no women in my team prior to my joining. I had to decide between trying to improve where I was or running away again. Seeing how the women in the executive team and women in other teams were treated far better than my prior company, I decided to stay. Since then, I’ve introduced initiatives and practices that have helped get the engineering team to 36% female.

Pay Gap

Employers do not want us talking about our salaries because it gives us the power to ask for more money. In the US, however, it is illegal to prevent employees from sharing their salary information as per the National Labor Relations Act that was made into law in 1935. As Erica Baker has shown us in her time at Google, sharing this information improves lives.

While the law protects us, it can still be a risk when your data is not anonymous. Websites including salary.comH1B Visa Salary Database, and Glassdoor allow us to see and post salaries anonymously, but critical information is missing. Hispanic women currently make 46% less than white men and 31% less than white women. These websites don’t include demographic information that would enable people to determine if they are making less money than their white cisgender hetero male counterparts.

What do we do? Share our information! Push for existing tools to add demographic data and look into options to create our own tools.

Wealth Inequality

Executive compensation can be found in SEC 10-K filings, but is often misleading, for example, in 2018 Mark Zuckerburg’s salary was $1. Comparing a Facebook employee salary to Zuckerburg’s would falsely make an employee believe they are well compensated. A better tool is Sec Form 4’s insider trading:

No alt text provided for this image

Being able to see executive compensation, how much an executive’s shares are worth, and how much the executive is making in stock sales, paints a clearer picture, especially when you factor in that salary is taxed at a higher rate than the capital gains tax applied to the sale of stock. 

Continuing with Zuckerburg as an example, in that one year slice he earned $1.8 billion in stock sales. The least paid software engineer in Facebook’s Boston office with an H1B Visa makes $105k a year. For every $1 that employee made, Zuckerburg made $17,142 in stock sales. Is that fair? 

Employer Ratings

Websites like Glassdoor allow people to rate employers. While you can rate on a large number of generic things, issues specific to women and minorities can’t be specified in discrete data fields that are summarized. For example, imagine if these websites could let you specify your gender in your profile and when you rate a company ask:

  • Have you ever felt discriminated against (Yes/No)?
  • If yes, was management part of the discrimination (Yes/No)?
  • Have you ever felt harassed (Yes/No)?
  • If yes, was it by management (Yes/No)?
  • If you are listed as female in your profile, do you feel like you are   required to do your normal job and office housework while men do not (Yes/No)?
  • Do you feel like an outsider (Yes/No)?

With this kind of information, the page for the company could then say the percentages of people that feel that way.  

Solution

Create a non-profit to build open source software that makes it clear to candidates and employees if pay inequality exists at a given company. Allow employees to share information about how inclusive their employer is. Provide employees a safe space to discuss issues without having management eavesdrop. Empower employees to petition en masse and to vote to strike. Clarify to employees how much more C-Suite employees are getting than they are. Illustrate to employees how much profit and how much of the company's income they get compared to what stockholders get.

How You Can Help

I feel like asking, at this time, amid so much instability and insecurity due to COVID-19, that I’m unlikely to get much response. At the same time, it feels like we are at a historical tipping point. The 1% are still using capitalism and politicians to protect their positions while the middle class and poor struggle.  

I recently completed a rough draft of a business plan for this non-profit. Last night I even began coding the software. I’ve tried recruiting people one at a time but it has been challenging to get in touch with people during the pandemic. 

My biggest need is somebody with marketing experience. I can also use the help of programmers, artists, UX designers, QA, and proofreaders. I’m sure there are many other skills that could get put to work. If you have time you could dedicate to this endeavor please contact me. If you don’t think you can personally help but want to support the effort, please spread the word.