Google Executive Denies Systemic Pay Discrimination Against Women

UPDATED: Eileen Naughton, Google vice president of people operations, denies a U.S. Department of Labor official's claims of systemic pay discrimination against women at that the cloud computing giant.

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A senior Google executive this week strongly rebutted recent claims of significant and systemic pay discrimination against women at the company.

In comments on The Keyword blog, Google’s vice president of people operations, Eileen Naughton denied the company treated women employees unfairly and insisted there was no gender pay gap at Google.

“Pay equity is a huge issue, not just for Silicon Valley companies, but across every industry in every country,” Naughton wrote. “Google conducts rigorous, annual analyses so that our pay practices remain aligned with our commitment to equal pay practices.”

Naughton’s defense of Google’s policies follows a recent report in The Guardian quoting a U.S. Department of Labor official as saying the government had found evidence of widespread discrimination against women in most common job positions at Google’s headquarters. According to the official, the government’s analysis showed the extent of the discrimination to be “quite extreme” even by technology industry standards.

The comments and Naughton’s rebuttal have refocused attention on an issue that surfaced a few months ago when the Labor Department announced that it had filed a lawsuit against Google over the latter’s failure to provide certain information relating to its employee compensation practices.

The Labor Department said that the agency’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program (OFCCP), as part of a random audit had in September 2015 asked Google for certain documents pertaining to its compliance with federal equal employment laws. The requested information included salary and job histories for certain classes of employees, their starting salaries and changes to those salaries after being hired.

Such requests were routine, the Labor Department asserted, and that Google as a federal government contractor was obligated to submit the documents that were being sought. The lawsuit stemmed from Google’s failure to produce the requested information.

Google at the time maintained that the government’s request for a so-called ‘compensation snapshot’ was far too broad and required the company to hand over information that would have impacted the privacy of its employees.

The company maintained that it had already submitted thousands of documents in response to the Labor Department request and said that it was only withholding a relatively small number of records because they were overbroad in scope and revealed confidential data on employees.

In her comments, Naughton said that the government’s assertion that its ongoing investigation of Google’s compensation practices showed systemic pay discrimination against women is surprising and not based or any supporting data. 

Google’s compensation review processes are completely gender blind and based on factors such as job role and level, location and performance ratings. The Google analysts who calculate suggested employee compensation amounts each year do not have any access to the employee’s gender data and managers have only limited discretion to adjust a direct report’s suggested compensation, she said.

The company then uses a pay equity review process to make sure that the suggested compensation for each year shows no significant differences between the salaries for men and for women.

If the review finds that a particular group of women or male employees are being paid a significantly lower amount than opposite gender counterparts, Google makes adjustments to address the issue, Naughton claimed. “Our analysis gives us confidence that there is no gender pay gap at Google,” she said.

Naugthon’s claims about there being no gender pay gap at Google found some support this week from job search website Glassdoor, which issued a statement to eWEEK saying that an analysis of salary reports shared by Google employees with Glassdoor shows no significant differences in pay between men and women at Google.

This analysis was covered in detail in a blog posted on Glassdoor's website that was written by the company's chief economist, Andrew Chamberlain. His analysis noted that while the salary data shows Google’s male employees earn about 16.3 percent more than women employees, the data by itself doesn't present the full picture.

That's because the data compares job titles such as software engineers and marketing associates as if they are in the same pay bracket, according to Glassdoor.

When salaries for employees with similar jobs and backgrounds are compared the difference disappears almost entirely. “We find an 'adjusted' gender pay gap at Google of about 1.6 percent, which is not statistically significant from zero,” Chamberlain wrote.

“Put differently, there’s no evidence in self-reported salaries on Glassdoor of an adjusted gender pay gap at Google,” he wrote.

Editor's Note: This story was updated with an analysis of Google salary data published by job search website Glassdoor.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.