This Exec Is Forcing Google Into Its First Trial Over Sexist Pay Discrimination

The industry has made modest progress since then, although cuts to staff working on improving diversity during the recent wave of layoffs could threaten that momentum. According to Josh Brenner, CEO of the jobs platform Hired, the wage gap between male and female tech workers has narrowed since 2017, when women were offered lower initial salaries than men 63 percent of the time. That number has fallen each year since, reaching 55 percent in 2023. At Google, however, the status of pay equity is as secret as a Chrome Incognito window.

Arjuna Capital, a social impact investment firm, puts out a scorecard each year assessing companies’ commitments to gender and racial pay equity and transparency. This year, Google’s parent company Alphabet earned an F. In 2016, Arjuna began filing shareholder proposals to get the company to release pay equity data. “Google at that time was a case study in what not to do when it came to gender equity,” says managing partner Natasha Lamb. She says the company finally began releasing some limited data in 2018, but has since stopped doing even that.

Pay Checks

At the other end of the pay scale from Rowe, the Alphabet Workers Union, which represents more than 1,400 US workers, released a survey of Google’s large US temp, vendor, and contractor workforce, exposing another harbor of inequity. TVCs typically receive lesser pay, benefits, workplace privileges, and job security than employees and face scarcer opportunities for advancement.

One person in that category who does marketing work for Google says she maxed out her two year limit as a temp, so the company converted her to a vendor, where she performed the same job but was no longer allowed on Google’s campuses. “The job is by its nature temporary, so there’s more fear of retaliation,” says the vendor, who requested anonymity for that reason.

The AWU survey found that women were more common among the TVC workforce. Sixty-six percent of US-based Alphabet employees are men, according to company data, compared to 51 percent of AWU-surveyed TVCs. Black and Latinx or Hispanic vendors reported 20 percent lower pay than their white counterparts. Mencini, Google’s spokesperson, calls the survey results misleading, saying the company sets minimum compensation standards for non-staff work, although the AWU says that thousands of TVCs are paid below this standard.

These workers often lack the resources of someone like Rowe to hold their employer to account. Instead, some have sought to cement fairer pay through collective bargaining. Earlier this year, the US labor board deemed Google a joint employer of contractors for YouTube Music, requiring the company to bargain with the workers, who voted to unionize. Google has refused and is appealing the decision.

Stapleton expresses disappointment that Google managed to quash much of the organizing energy that emerged around the walkout. But she derives hope from agitators like Rowe. “That someone like this would use her privilege and seniority to push back against Google in a public way, I think that has ripple effects for other people, and it proves there’s a lot of fight left,” Stapleton says. “Hopefully it’s reinvigorating.”

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