Google underpays men, not women, study finds

It's a "surprising trend," said Google's lead analyst for pay equity.

  • The recent analysis was for 2018 and it was conducted by Google.
  • The results show that, at least within one large group of software engineers, men received less discretionary funds than women.
  • Google did not release pay information along racial lines or other categories.

Since 2012, Google has conducted an annual review to see whether different groups of employees are paid equally. You might expect the 2018 results to fall in line with the familiar gender pay-gap narrative – women systematically earn less than men – especially considering Google is facing a class-action lawsuit alleging the company does just that.

But that's not what the review found. It showed that – at least within one large group of software engineers – men are paid less than women. If that sounds like a "surprising trend" you "didn't expect," then you're in the same boat as Lauren Barbato, Google's lead analyst for pay equity.

In a blog post for Google, Barbato wrote that male Level 4 software engineers received less discretionary funds than their female colleagues who worked similar jobs in 2018. (Men, by the way, account for 69 percent of the company's workforce.) But she suggested the analysis only shows "part of the story" of pay structure at Google.

"Because leveling, performance ratings, and promotion impact pay, this year, we are undertaking a comprehensive review of these processes to make sure the outcomes are fair and equitable for all employees," she wrote in a blog post, in which the term "leveling" refers to the pay grade to which employees are assigned.

Google plans to investigate whether some women are being hired at lower positions than their qualifications warrant, something for which the U.S. Department of Labor is currently investigating the company.

"Our first step is a leveling equity analysis to assess how employees are leveled when they are hired, and whether we can improve how we level."

Google responded to the results of the analysis by issuing $9.7 million in adjustments to 10,677 employees. If you interpret that payout as something of a correction to a gender pay-gap problem, you'd think that people who advocate for gender parity would be pleased with the news. But, again, that's not the case.

In an article from The New York Times, Joelle Emerson, chief executive of Paradigm, a company that helps companies develop diversity and inclusion strategies, said Google seems to be advancing a "flawed and incomplete sense of equality," and that striving for true equity would involve examining – and presumably destroying – structural obstacles faced by female engineers.

Some thought this criticism was hypocritical.

The gender pay gap at Google – at least within one pool of software engineers – doesn't seem to point in the direction that most people expected. But either way, it's not very stark. The adjustments, after all, amount to about $900 per employee, and most employees earn six-figure salaries.

So, perhaps the bigger question – one that some 8,300 current and former Google employees hope to find out in their class-action lawsuit – is whether the company systematically offers men more opportunities than women who have the same skills and qualifications. That's something an algorithm, like the one used to calculate the recent pay gap analysis, can't easily figure out.

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