A funny thing happened on the way to Google’s drive for gender equality: It hit a speed bump made of men. As the New York Times reported this week, a study conducted by Google to ferret out pay inequality among female employees found instead that some men at the company were being underpaid. Google’s “lead analyst for pay equity” told the Times it was a “surprising trend that we didn’t expect.”
It was a surprise and unexpected only if your starting assumption is that women face insurmountable obstacles to equal pay, which the Times and the experts it consulted clearly did. Said experts immediately engaged in woke denialism:
Google seems to be advancing a “flawed and incomplete sense of equality” by making sure men and women receive similar salaries for similar work, said Joelle Emerson, chief executive of Paradigm, a consulting company that advises companies on strategies for increasing diversity. That is not the same as addressing “equity,” she said, which would involve examining the structural hurdles that women face as engineers.
It’s important to note the new qualifiers Ms. Emerson introduces here (“flawed and incomplete sense of equality”) as well as the language shift from “equality” to “equity.” What Google was noting was an inequality—one that happened to affect men more than women. This did not suit the narrative of gender consultants like Ms. Emerson, who quickly tried to move the goalposts to argue that women were still victims because of vague “structural hurdles.”
In recent years, “structural inequality” has become the balm of the intersectional masses, trotted out any time women are shown to have achieved equality of opportunity. (A related question: if you accept the argument that structural barriers impact women’s behavior, then why was Google employee James Damore fired for writing a memo that described just such structural challenges?)
Gender consultants and women’s advocates should be celebrating Google’s findings; the internal survey showed that managers at Google are so keen on rewarding and retaining women they have become slightly overzealous about it at the expense of some men. The reason women were making more than men is because managers had used discretionary funds to give women (but not men) more raises and bonuses, surely a sign that Google was making a concerted effort to keep its female workforce happy.
This was evidently not enough for the study’s critics, however. In addition to “structural hurdles,” Liz Fong-Jones, a former Google employee, told the Telegraph that Google “failed to control for underpromoting and underlevelling women,” meaning that overqualified women were being placed in lower-paid positions and thus not making as much as their equally qualified male counterparts.
Fong-Jones offered no evidence that this was the case. Besides, job classification and job promotion (both complicated and case-specific decisions that require weighing a multitude of factors) are not what Google’s internal study was intended to examine. Google was looking for evidence of wage discrimination, and its assumption was that such discrimination adversely impacted women at the company. When the company found the opposite (that some men were being paid less than their equally qualified female colleagues), it corrected the discrepancy, as it should.
If you’re a cynic, you might note that Google could be eager to publicize its recent wage adjustments as part of a broader P.R. and legal strategy, given that the company is under investigation by the Labor Department for gender discrimination and is being sued by former female employees for the same offense.
But the tech industry as a whole should take note of the trend toward ignoring evidence that doesn’t suit the gender “equity” narrative. Similar goalpost-moving occurred in 2017 when Github “postponed” a conference after critics on Twitter called out the company for having all-male panelists. What the critics failed to notice was that Github had used a blind review process to select papers for the conference (ostensibly to prevent discrimination and clearly announced on its call for proposals)—meaning the submissions were scrubbed of any reference to gender, race, or name. The result? All of the proposals selected through the blind review process were written by men.
Yet because the optics didn’t suit the gender equity narrative, the company still felt pressured to cancel the conference despite its gender-blind approach. One imagines if the same process had produced an all-female panel, the conference would have gone on and the company would have been celebrated for being so women-focused. That’s what many feminists mean by “equity”—not equal opportunities for men and women, but a system that gives women an advantage to counteract supposed structural inequalities, and as compensation for past disadvantages.
This form of equity pursues equality of outcome, not equality of opportunity. Google should instead follow the guidance offered by its own gender equity expert, who introduced her summary of the wage study by stating: “Compensation should be based on what you do, not who you are.”