In the midst of an ugly legal battle with the US Department of Labor over the gender wage gap, Google updated its blog on Tuesday to assert its commitment to paying women and men at the company equally. For a company with totally unremarkable diversity numbers, Google is weirdly nonspecific about how it addresses pay inequity in the post, saying both that it doesn’t underpay women, but won’t support having a third-party certify that.
The allegations date back to January, when the Department of Labor filed suit against Google for employment income data as part of a federally mandated review to make sure women and men are paid the same at the company. Since September, Google has repeatedly refused to give the agency the data, claiming that the request violates employee privacy and that Google’s own internal audits found no pay discrimination.
The Department of Labor, however, asserts that women are grossly underpaid compared to men at the company.
Janet Herold, a solicitor for the agency, told The Guardian that the government’s preliminary investigation found that “discrimination against women in Google is quite extreme, even in this industry.” If Google continues withholding the data, they risk losing all federal contracts and being barred from all future federal work until they hand it over. Regardless, Google isn’t budging, claiming that the government couldn’t possibly have discovered a pay disparity because it has incomplete records—the entirety of which Google refuses to hand over. Tuesday’s (only slightly passive aggressive) blog post reads:
We were taken aback by this assertion, which came without any supporting data or methodology. The [Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs] representative claimed to have reached this conclusion even as the OFCCP is seeking thousands of employee records, including contact details of our employees, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of documents we’ve already produced in response to 18 different document requests.
But Google’s methodology for calculating employee compensation is not “gender blind,” as it cringingly asserts. According to the blog post, employee compensation is suggested by a number of factors, including “current and recent performance ratings.” Although salary is calculated by analysts who can’t see employee gender, they factor in performance ratings which themselves are subjective and shaped by biases. Google also acknowledges that managers have “limited discretion to adjust” the final compensation level that analysts suggest.
It’s almost ridiculous to assert that gender plays absolutely no part in performance or ratings when there’s such an enormous gender disparity at the company, with an 80 percent male tech labor force. Wouldn’t that play out in performance ratings? How does Google audit performance ratings for gender bias? How do they know such heavily skewed environments don’t affect performance in the first place? The company hasn’t answered these questions and according to the Department of Labor, Google’s problems are systemic, not incidental.
Obviously, the problem is much bigger than just Google. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which files suit against discriminating companies, will start collecting data on income and gender in 2018 to identify wage gaps. Given the rampant problems of sexism in tech, even among feminist-identifying companies, there are many more legal battles (and awkward PR pivots like this) to come.