To reduce hiring bias, some tech companies take a cue from symphonies


Tech industry’s gender pay gap gets fresh attention from an activist investor.

Last month, Glassdoor — the website where current and former employees can anonymously review companies, management, and disclose their salaries — released new research on the gender pay gap in the technology industry. Based on 534,000 anonymously shared employee salaries, Glassdoor’s research found that, despite technology firms’ stated commitments to diversity and gender equality, a gender pay gap persists. As Tracey Lien reported for The Los Angeles Times: “the largest pay gap — adjusted for experience, education, position, location, and industry — existed among certain types of computer programmers, with men making on average 28.3% more than their female counterparts.” Similar disparities existed for video game artists, information security specialists, and front-end engineers.

Even with survey data and discrimination lawsuits, it can be hard to fully assess the true scope of the pay gap across the industry. That’s where investor Natasha Lamb, director of shareholder engagement at an activist investment firm, steps in. As Fusion’s Kristen V. Brown reports,

[Lamb]  has submitted proposals to nine tech companies in which her firm has a stake asking them to publicly disclose whether they pay women less than their male colleagues, and if so, by how much. Of those, so far three have revealed that they do underpay female workers, at least slightly.

“As investors we’re interested in understanding what structural barriers are keeping these companies from thriving and being diverse,” Lamb told me, via phone. “Equal pay is a metric that companies can disclose, should disclose, and should be accountable to investors for.”

Companies have responded with drastically varying degrees of enthusiasm. Adobe fought the proposal and got it thrown out on a technicality. Arjuna withdrew its proposals from Intel and Apple, after both companies reported they had virtually no pay gap and publicly committed to take steps to keep it that way. Expedia and Microsoft also said they would comply with the information request without putting it to a shareholder vote, so Arjuna withdrew its proposals there, too.

Amazon sought at first to block the proposal, arguing that it was “inherently vague or indefinite.” The Securities and Exchange Commission, however, ruled that the company would have to include it on its annual ballot. At that point, Amazon, caved, too.

Lamb’s proposals are still waiting on a shareholder vote at Facebook and Google.

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