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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It's almost 90 degrees outside in Los Angeles as lines of cars pull up to Dodger Stadium, home to a mass vaccination site that opened Friday.

"Please make sure that they're not under the sun in the cart," Edith Mirzaian is telling a volunteer as she directs the person to put ice packs on coolers that hold up to 20 COVID vaccines. Mirzaian is a USC associate professor of clinical pharmacy and an operational lead at one of California's largest vaccination sites.

Dodger Stadium alone — once the nation's largest COVID-19 testing site — is slated to vaccine up to 12,000 people each day, county and city health officials said this week. Officials plan to finish vaccinating some 500,000 health care and assisted care employees by the end of this month before opening appointments up to people 65 and older.

Mirzaian is desperately trying to make sure that the vaccines don't spoil.

"We have to be the guardians of the vaccine," she said.

Earlier this month, hundreds of vaccinations were lost after a refrigerator went out in Northern California, forcing the hospital to rush to give out hundreds of doses. Mirzaian's task tells a larger story of the difficult and often daunting logistical process required to roll out a vaccine that requires cold temperatures.

"You know they can't be warm so just keep an eye out," she gently reminds the volunteer.

The volunteers and staff from USC, the Los Angeles Fire Department and Core Laboratories prepared enough doses to vaccinate around 2,000 residents on Friday and they plan to increase capacity each day after.

Local health officials are holding the vaccination syringes in coolers after they leave the air-conditioned trailers. The coolers are then covered in ice packs and wheeled on carts to clinicians administering shots to health care workers and nursing home staff eligible under the state's vaccination plan.

"Vaccines are the surest route to defeating this virus and charting a course to recovery, so the City, County, and our entire team are putting our best resources on the field to get Angelenos vaccinated as quickly, safely, and efficiently as possible," said mayor Eric Garcetti in a statement announcing the plan.

Health officials around the world are racing against time as the virus mutates and poses greater dangers.

"We have a little bit of borrowed time here right now because these variants are not here in great numbers from what we can tell," said Susan Butler-Wu, an associate professor in clinical pathology at USC's Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Curbing the spread of the virus is a vital way to prevent mutant strains from developing, she said.

Mirzaian, who arrived at the site before it opened at 8 a.m., said that there were logistical challenges as volunteers scrambled to assemble what will likely be the hub of the region's vaccination efforts.

"It's challenging to make sure that everyone knows what the process is and what we're doing and what to tell the patients who receive the vaccines."

After a few hours, the procedure moved quicker.

Residents have to show identification and proof of employment before they're taken through a list of pre-screening questions and given the vaccine through their car window. They're required to then wait for 15 minutes while clinicians monitor them for side effects.

Mirzaian said the process took each car about an hour. While eligible residents can walk-in for vaccinations, she recommends they make appointments so that enough doses are made available each day.

"As long as people have their appointments, they will get in," she said. "We are ready. We are like an army ready to give vaccines."

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