Investors Challenge Tech Bros to Pay Women Fairly

Arjuna Capital wants businesses like Amazon and Facebook to follow Intel’s lead and close the gender wage gap.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Mar 7, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Alex Janin is an editorial intern at TakePart and a senior at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Women working in Silicon Valley report being excluded, harassed, and underpaid—and tech companies aren’t usually known as leaders in gender diversity. Last year, a Newsweek cover about gender inequality in Silicon Valley summed up the problem with a controversial image: a woman’s skirt being lifted by a computer cursor.

But in February, Intel seemed to buck those “tech bro” trends. In a precedent-setting report, the company revealed that 43 percent of new hires last year were women or people of color and that it had closed its gender wage gap.

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Now Arjuna Capital, a Massachusetts-based investment firm that specializes in sustainability, is pushing other big tech companies to follow in Intel’s footsteps. It’s challenging seven tech companies—eBay, Amazon, Expedia, Google, Adobe, Microsoft, and Facebook—to set goals to achieve gender equality in the workplace.

Natasha Lamb, Arjuna’s director of equity research and shareholder engagement, told TakePart that the element of liability will likely make these businesses take the issue seriously.

“You don’t want to be the only tech company in Silicon Valley that hasn’t committed to gender pay equality,” she said.

Arjuna is asking these seven businesses to submit detailed reports that show policies and goals to reduce the wage gap. Some companies have already met Arjuna’s challenge. At a shareholder meeting Feb. 29, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced the company had all but closed its internal wage gap, with an average of 99.6 percent equity of pay between men and women. As a result, Arjuna withdrew its proposal from Apple, as it did for Intel following its announcement.

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Facebook is expected to release its report to shareholders by October. Before tech companies start compiling data, however, shareholders will have to vote on the resolutions through proxy ballots at the companies’ annual meetings.

Some of the other businesses aren’t thrilled that Arjuna’s proposals will be listed on their ballots. Amazon is reportedly asking the Securities and Exchange Commission to file a no-action letter because it believes the term gender wage gap is too vague and shareholders won’t understand it, Lamb said. She warned this is a dangerous game for tech companies.

“At tech companies, innovation is job one. Diversity leads to innovation,” she said. “If you’re a woman looking for a role in the tech industry, would you rather look for an Intel that has 100 percent gender pay equality or an Amazon that is fighting the gender pay proposal on their ballot?”

SmartAsset, a New York–based financial technology company, recently released financial data on salaries at tech companies in San Francisco. It found that 75 percent of the tech workforce is male. Several of the companies Arjuna is targeting appear on SmartAsset’s list of industry leaders with low ratios of women to men in the workplace. At Amazon, for example, women hold only 11 percent of technical positions. Facebook and Microsoft show similarly low numbers, with only about a 16-percent female tech force.

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These numbers do not align with national statistics, which show women are steadily occupying about 26 percent of technical roles. In Kansas City, Detroit, and Indianapolis, women in tech are making more money on average than their male counterparts, and SmartAsset reports that there is a distinct correlation between workplace representation and pay equity. So why is Silicon Valley still falling behind the rest of the country?

“Silicon Valley is a man’s world,” said Lamb. “They have a gender issue. No one sets out to say, ‘We’re going to improve our margins by paying women less.’ It just happens, and without examining it fully, companies just aren’t aware.”

Arjuna is asking the tech companies to examine gender equality with a magnifying glass and look at factors that might not be under the control of a board, such as negotiation, gender discrimination in management, and other issues that could lead to a gender pay gap.

“There are structural biases at work. If you want to have more women in leadership roles, you need to incent them the same as their male counterparts,” Lamb said.