Google Pay Disparity (2017 Aug)

by Barry A. Liebling

Google – the world-class, premiere internet service company – is under attack. Earlier this year the Labor Department sued Google because the firm refused to hand over 19 years of compensation records. Google is being accused of systematically paying women less than it pays men. And the company is also being harangued by “socially responsible” investment firms that are eager to inspect Google’s pay practices and compel it to make amends if there is evidence that women are “underpaid.”

The management of Google has replied that it has conducted its own internal analyses and concluded that – when the relevant factors are taken into account – women and men that have similar jobs are paid about the same. Of course, this is not satisfactory to the government or to the activist investors who want to inspect the data. The critics of Google retort that the company must have something to hide.

The conflict is significant because it is another episode in the perpetual nefarious efforts of leftists to elevate the importance of group membership and downplay the significance of individual achievement. Here are some observations.

Consider the motivations of people who are eager to scrutinize Google’s compensation records. They are not disinterested auditors. If they comb through the data and conclude that the company is acting properly they fail. Their real job is to seek and find every possible instance of women getting paid less. Google has thousands of employees, and data sets are typically quite complicated. A careful inspection of recent compensation records will probably reveal discrepancies that show some women are paid less than some men. Eureka! Now imagine what the prospects are of discovering women who are “underpaid” if the inspector has 19 years of records to play with. The outside snoops will have no trouble finding a myriad of instances where women are getting a “raw deal.” Google cannot possibly emerge looking clean to its inquisitors.

If government authorities conclude that Google is not paying women enough what should the company do? The proper answer is that the company should study how employees are compensated and enact new policies that make pay strictly determined by objective, observable, defensible standards. Bear in mind that this is a difficult, expensive task. Some jobs – such as sales positions that pay a commission – can be codified fairly easily. But many professional positions rely on the judgments of supervisors for pay raises, and these judgments may or may not “fix” the women’s pay gap problem. Attempting to be extra fair – measuring performance fastidiously – is not the path to mollifying outside agitators. If any statistics for women are even a little lower than for men there will be a problem as far as government bureaucrats and activist critics are concerned.

And here is where the essential issue is exposed. Google executives can take the correct path and explain that merit, not group membership, is how they intend to pay their employees. If women differ from men in compensation it will be due to real performance and will not be attributable to unfair biases. Google could go on to say that while their methods for recognizing and rewarding merit always need to be refined and improved, their intentions are to be fair to each employee. Notice that this approach requires Google top management to recognize the virtue of individualism (intellectually difficult) and to reject the leftist group-identity ideology (requires courage).

Realistically, Google executives, who have a long record of supporting leftist causes and identity politics are not likely to change their stripes. Instead they will do what they must to accommodate to the demands of their politically oriented critics. Google will engage in reverse engineering. Management will know that for every position records must show that women make as much money as men. The human resources function will be tasked with assuring that women’s compensation is always equal to or greater than men’s. If that means women are performing equally well – fine. If women have to be given extra money even if they are not performing so well – that is an acceptable cost of practicing “progressive politics.”

Suppose the compensation data reveal that in some instances women are paid more than men. A naive observer might respond that men should have their pay increased. But that fails to appreciate the big picture. According to the leftist progressive world-view women are oppressed by men. If company policies can turn the tables and put women on top that counts as “social justice.”

Of course Google is a business, its people have to do a good job, and it must reward its employees according to how well they do if it is going to remain successful. Is there a way to pay employees based on merit and also assure that women never make less than men? Yes, have men and women compete in separate categories. In evaluating employees women will only be compared to other women. This is parallel to what is done in sports such as tennis and golf. And a main effect of this scheme is that it formalizes a Marxist fallacy – that men and women should be thought of as competing classes that struggle against one another for dominance.

Notice that it is always possible for Google executives to see that identity politics is a dead end. They can recognize the enlightenment virtue that each person should be judged and rewarded according to his or her own merits. And any time they want to escape from the leftist salon they can. When that occurs Google will be stronger, more successful, and immune to unjust attacks.

*** See other entries at in “Monthly Columns.” ***

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