April 17, 2018
By Roberta Rincón, Ph.D., Manager of Research, SWE
Earlier this week, 60 Minutes aired a segment about the gender pay gap that was quite compelling. Interviewing current and former company heads from SalesForce and Dupont, Lesley Stahl noted how pervasive the gender pay gap is across the country, stating that despite progress made over the last few decades, women still make 20% less than men in similar positions. In addition, the interviews highlighted the necessity of constant and consistent monitoring by company heads to ensure gender equality across an organization is reached.
Marc Benioff, the founder, chairman, and CEO of SalesForce, takes pride in his company’s culture. The company is known as a great place to work because of its focus on keeping its people happy and giving back to the community. As with many executives when approached about the issue of a gender pay gap, Benioff was in denial about the existence of such inequity within his corporation. It wasn’t until an audit was conducted and the data showed that the gender pay gap existed across every division, every department, and every geographic location within SalesForce that Benioff realized that a gap not only existed, but it was widespread. He also discovered that it would take $3 million to immediately address the gap, and he vowed to do so.
As Benioff discovered in his review of pay data, the pay gap between male and female engineers does exist. It may not be as large as the general pay gap across all sectors, but female engineers still receive about 90 cents per dollar earned by their male counterparts. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that the gap varies by engineering discipline, with the smallest gap among biomedical engineers and the largest among software developers, aerospace engineers, civil engineers, and electrical engineers (Table 1).
Table 1: Median Annual Earnings and Earnings Gap in Select Engineering and Computing Occupations, by Gender, 2016
Source: U.S. Census Bureau. 2016 American Community Survey 5-year estimates: Tables B24122 and B24123. Data retrieved from www.factfinder.census.gov
Unfortunately, Benioff discovered that the $3 million adjustment at SalesForce that first year did not fix the problem. The following year, when the audit was conducted again, leadership discovered that the gap remained. The reason? As the company grew and acquired other companies, SalesForce took on the pay structures of those companies, which negatively impacted their efforts to close the pay gap. Instead of throwing in the towel and declaring, as many other executives have done, that this was too monumental and costly a problem to fix, Benioff insisted on continuous monitoring and adjustments.
This type of oversight, continued analyses, and periodic adjustments are what are required to ensure that fairness in compensation across all organizations is achieved. There are many excuses that are brought forth when discussing closing the pay gap, but without more senior leaders committing themselves to addressing the problem head-on, we are faced with a 100-year wait if we settle for the current rate of change.