Guest Column: Housing Isn't the Reason Women are Paid Less in Tech

It was tough to read Ben Bergman's article When it Comes to Pay, Study Says L.A. is Worst Big City for Women in Tech in dot.LA a couple weeks ago. The study found that the gender pay gap in Los Angeles' tech and venture capital industries is primarily due to the area's high housing costs.

It was tough because, while it is true that high housing costs are a contributing factor, they are by far not the only factor responsible for women in tech making less than 82 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts. The reality is much more complex and oftentimes, harder to acknowledge.

As a woman in tech, I've experienced first-hand the frustrations around compensation conversations. I've either undervalued my own worth or not felt properly equipped to negotiate effectively. Talking about money and personal finances has always felt so taboo. Instead, we should be encouraged to have more candid discussions and equipped with the proper resources to navigate these topics.

I know that lack of transparency about salaries, a better understanding of one's company culture and employees, and mentorship driven community programs are three of the key ways that can help to close that wage gap for women. After all, according to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, women negotiate and ask for raises just as often as men — they are just less likely to receive them.

So what can the tech and venture community do about greater transparency? How can cities play a role in building stronger tech ecosystems? And, why should they care?

One of the answers lies in partnering with PledgeLA — a coalition initiative of more than 200 venture capital and tech companies in Los Angeles. The goal of PledgeLA is to support and actively help VC and tech leaders grow their workforces in ways that better reflect the talent and diversity of Los Angeles.

One of PledgeLA's members, Jordan Sale of 81cents, has the unique perspective of being a female founder of a tech company that has in turn built a platform to dramatically increase the transparency of market rate pay. According to Ms. Sale, her company has seen first-hand how data can transform the negotiation process. Often, it's a combination of data and validation from those in similar roles that helps candidates — especially those from underrepresented backgrounds — build the confidence to negotiate in the first place.

PledgeLA helps tech and venture firms with transparency through a confidential annual evaluation tool which helps member organizations better understand their own employees, especially around compensation.

For example, the PledgeLA survey gives informative feedback around employees' perceived fairness of performance evaluations; their experiences and outcomes with salary and raise negotiations; and their thoughts about whether their current pay suits their workload. The survey also allows members to see how staff satisfaction regarding compensation compares to similar peer organizations. Access to this data, which is provided anonymously by team employees, can give HR departments and company leaders insights they need to take specific actions.

I know that having robust, internal dialogue about compensation can be difficult. But it's to the advantage of tech and venture firms who want to attract and retain talented women. After all, research shows that diverse teams outperform and make better business decisions than non-diverse teams.

Cities can also play a role in closing the gap for women in tech by investing in mentorship-driven resources that directly support women. Programs like WiSTEM LA, an initiative empowering women pursuing careers in STEM, and Grid110, an organization providing free entrepreneurship programs to primarily women and people of color. By investing in programs like these that seek to uplift underrepresented communities in tech, we can level the playing field through increased representation and increased access to professional support — whether it be guidance on navigating career pathways or access to capital.

With programs like these and innovative evaluation tools like PledgeLA's survey, the path to making clear progress towards more equitable pay is no longer a mystery.

Let's not take the easy way out and just blame Los Angeles' high housing costs for the wage gap in tech. I urge my fellow tech and venture capital leaders to take action and turn your FOFO (fear of finding out) into FOMO (fear of missing out). Becoming more transparent and learning more about your employees' perspectives will reap benefits for you and your company.

Miki Reynolds is Executive Director of Grid110, an economic and community development non-profit dedicated to creating clearer pathways to success for early-stage entrepreneurs in Los Angeles.

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