Want Your Business To Succeed? Hire Women.
Two weeks ago I was having the same old argument with a Wall Street trader about the pay gap. Despite the fact that there are literally hundreds of studies that have proved and quantified it (an average of 79 cents on the dollar according to the America Association for the University of Women, and worse for women of color) some people just don’t believe it exists.
I was vindicated to learn that the American space exploration technologies corporation SpaceX announced plans in February to carry out an audit to ensure equal pay for women. In fact, SpaceX is the latest in a string of firms to attempt to identify the level of inequality in their organizations after Apple, Intel, the Gap and grand-daddy of them all, Google all embarked on their own programs to eliminate the gender pay gap.
If the pay gap doesn’t exist, then why are these big-ticket organizations bending over backwards to ensure equitable pay? It can’t just be a PR stunt. There must be some benefit to the firms.
On International Women’s Day, I attended a panel discussion titled The Opportunity of Women in Tech, which attempted to answer this question and more by focusing on how technology companies are utilizing women on their teams. Reflecting on the conversations at the panel, I have gained confidence in the potential for real progress.
The event was hosted by New York-based Wall Street technology company Axial. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to look at the progress women are making at the intersection of Wall Street and technology; both of which are areas where women have been historically under-paid and misrepresented.
Five minutes into the panel discussion, Allison Tepley, Vice President of Acquisition and Engagement at Axial dropped the first of a series of insights into why firms might be attempting to close the wage gap. Statistically, organizations with gender equity perform better than those with a lower percent of women. In other words, firms that hire an equal number of men and women, and pay them fairly, do better than those that don’t.
By carrying out pubic audits of their internal pay, firms like SpaceX and Google are sending a clear message to women that they will get a fair wage if they apply to the company. Furthermore, women are far more likely to feel valued at organizations that prioritize equality. This means that organizations with pay equity will both attract, and (more importantly) retain, female talent, which is a win-win for everyone.
Speaking at Axial’s Women in Tech event, Anastasia Leng, Founder and Chief Executive of start-up Picasso Labs—who, incidentally, started her career at Google and praises their back-to-work programs for mothers—says that diversity in the workforce needs to extend beyond gender to include factors such as race, religion and socio-economic background.
By hiring people “different from you” or embracing intersectionality, firms are more likely to have workforce with diverse and complementary skillsets and talents. Great ideas and innovation flourish in such environments, and as a result firms perform better. That’s the idea, anyway.
Fellow panelist Charlie Gray, President of Gray Scalable, says that every firm has extreme and systematic issues “under-the-hood” when it comes to the pay gap. According to Gray, many factors contribute to salary discrepancies but one issue is that a new hires’ pay is typically linked to their previous pay, and women tend to come in at a lower pay level to their male counterparts.
On Wall Street, firms have been less vocal about narrowing the divide. From my own experience as a financial journalist, most of the contacts I speak to are men; most of the conferences I attend are filled with men; most of the panels I sit through are male-dominated.
Despite this, there is cause to be optimistic, according to Nancy Gill, who served previously as the Human Resources Executive at both investment bank JP Morgan Chase and the National Football League. Gill says she is encouraged by the progress that is being made, even though she has spent thirty years in the most unfriendly sectors for women, and adds that chief executives at organizations need to decide what their values are from the get-go in terms of diversity and pay equity.
And that’s exactly what firms like SpaceX, Google, Apple and the rest are doing when they publically announce their ambitions to eliminate the pay gap in their organizations—laying down their core values of equality and fairness to the public, and to women. They have recognized, ahead of the course, that diversity is now a competitive advantage in business.
That’s why we can be quietly optimistic that the rest of Silicon Valley and Wall Street will follow suit. Because everyone there wants to get ahead of the next guy (or woman).
Faye Kilburn is a journalist, blogger and intersectional feminist with a special interest in body positivism and self-love. She volunteers with LGBTQIA young people, teaches a reading program for homeless kids in Brooklyn, and is member of the National Organization of Women’s New York Activist Alliance class of 2016. She is a fierce defender of equal rights for all, and believes all oppressed groups should ally together to fight injustice.
April 1, 2016