Google hit the headlines again last week for all the wrong reasons, with a lawsuit filed on behalf of all women employed by the company in California over the last four years. This case is likely to have global repercussions, sending out a strong message to businesses of all sizes about the need to identify and address their gender pay gap. The claim made against Google is particularly important in light of the new requirements around gender pay gap reporting for large organisations, due to come into force in the UK April 2018.
This lawsuit closely follows the widely-reported diversity memo scandal at the tech giant, in which the firm dismissed one of its software engineers for a document he wrote criticising the organisation’s diversity efforts. The memo also perpetuated common stereotypes about the biological differences between men and women, citing these as the reason for the tech industry’s gender imbalance. This new accusation that Google has consistently paid women less than men for doing similar work, as well as denying them promotions and career opportunities, is further evidence of ingrained inequality in the corporation’s workplace culture.
Aside from being the US equivalent of a pay inequality claim, this case is also significant as an example of sex discrimination, with female former Google employees alleging that the company segregated them into lower-paying jobs. Forcing women to enter the organisation in more junior positions than men with lower levels of skills and qualifications, means that they are always likely to fare worse financially after being disadvantaged from the outset. Additionally, while the corporation has argued that discrepancies in remuneration for men and women performing “substantially similar work” are reflective of location and job performance, this simply doesn’t add up.
While recent gender pay legislation currently only applies to organisations employing 250 or more people, it is important that smaller firms also give thought to pay equality. This becomes particularly important where a firm is growing and approaching the 250-employee boundary. Transparency around gender pay is also significant in the context of the recent unemployment figures, which reveal that the UK has reached a record low level of 4.3% – almost a full-employment economy.
Employers should learn from the mistakes made by Google by investing time in training those responsible for internal promotions, as discrimination is often the result of ingrained assumptions around gender barriers. It is also important that businesses take steps to dust off and review their equality policies, as well as seeking to identify and address any potential gap in gender pay. It is worth noting that while gender pay legislation was introduced in Scotland two years ago, we are still yet to see any real shift in inequality. As such, the legislation alone is not enough and a concerted effort to change the attitudes of those in the most senior positions is urgently required.
Mike Hibbs is head of employment at law firm Shakespeare Martineau