Mark Twain once quoted Benjamin Disraeli in saying “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” It seems that we cannot free ourselves from the misuse of statistics to purport that there is a 20% wage gap between men and women in the United States, despite all evidence to the contrary. In fact, last year, on “Equal Pay Day,” the day that has been created in April to demonstrate how many extra days a woman needs to work in order to earn the same as a man each year, Google celebrated with a #20PercentCounts hashtag, and a link to a video that shows what 20% less looks like. This idea has been thoroughly debunked , many times over, and even by left-wing groups. So, I won’t spend any more time on the reasons that it is fake news.
The irony, though, is that Google is being sued by some of its female employees for wage discrimination, and that suit was just allowed to move forward. Google spokesperson Gina Scigliano’s response explained how the company strives to eliminate any potential wage gap issues:
In relation to this particular lawsuit, we’ll review it in detail, but we disagree with the central allegations. Job levels and promotions are determined through rigorous hiring and promotion committees, and must pass multiple levels of review, including checks to make sure there is no gender bias in these decisions. And we have extensive systems in place to ensure that we pay fairly. But on all these topics, if we ever see individual discrepancies or problems, we work to fix them, because Google has always sought to be a great employer, for every one of our employees.
To that end, Google published a pay-equity guide on its re:Work site (“This website is a curated platform of practices, research, and ideas from Google and others; it’s designed to help you use data and science to make work better, no matter where you call work.”). This guide explains in detail how to do a statistical analysis to ensure that a company is not discriminating in its pay structure. The guide starts by stating that the wage gap is both well-documented (which is linked to a Wikipedia guide to the gender wage gap, not a very authoritative source, that only states that the unadjusted wage gap in the US in 2015 was 18.88%, but does not get into what unadjusted means), and well-researched (which is linked to a very long video by a researcher who does come to the conclusion that there are explainable factors that bring the actual unexplainable wage gap down to less than 9%, which is less than half of the 20% that Google itself was pushing on “Equal Pay Day” last year).
The guide goes on to explain that each company must decide what factors it will use to determine differences in pay among employees doing similar jobs. Google explains in the guide that:
As you evaluate your programs, remember that pay equity doesn’t always mean “pay everyone the same amount.” Based on your compensation philosophy, there could be factors that you determine should differentiate pay among people in similar jobs. At Google, for example, it is expected that top performers earn more than others in the same role.
This compensation philosophy could arguably explain some of the pay disparity, assuming there is a statistically significant amount, that it is being sued over. There are other factors in play, and a further irony is that these reasonable explanations for pay disparity come directly from Google, who still insisted last year that the wage gap is 20%. Later in the guide, Google references a finding in their company from 2010 that explained a noticeable wage gap at the time:
In 2010, the team found a difference between men and women software engineers. In Engineering, Googlers can self-nominate for promotion when they feel ready to move to the next job level. In one cycle, Google’s data showed that junior, female software engineers were not getting promoted at the same rate as their male counterparts. When digging into this, the People Analytics team found that the problem stemmed from differing self-nomination rates. Men, who in many cultures are typically more comfortable self-promoting, were nominating themselves at higher rates than their equally qualified but, on average, less self-promoting female peers.
Google successfully corrected this by sharing its findings with employees, and encouraging women to self-nominate for promotion more often. This also speaks to another possible reason for the wage gap that remains after adjusting for demonstrable cause: that women in general are less aggressive, and therefore may be less skilled negotiators when it comes to initial wages as well as raises. This was documented in an article by Monster, which does a good job explaining the issue while still erroneously stating that the wage gap is more than 20%.
If Google, a company that goes to great lengths to educate and inform about the perceived gender wage gap, cannot avoid being sued over wage discrimination, literally no company is safe. It will be interesting to see how the case proceeds. We must be careful not to create a culture where a woman who consistently under-performs can cry wage discrimination when she is not earning the same as a male counterpart who consistently performs well. Google’s own compensation philosophy aims to reward performance, and rightly so. Companies and their employee compensation structures should be meritocracies, and not fall into the trappings of failed socialistic ideas that everyone is equal, because they just aren’t.