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Hacking the State of Pay in Silicon Valley

What will it take to make the number on women’s paychecks bigger? Nothing short of white-hat hacking, I fear.

Gustavo Frazao/Shutterstock

Diversity produces better results. I was first introduced to this concept while working with a team of journalists and managers updating the mission statement for the San Jose Mercury News, the newspaper of Silicon Valley. In part, the statement reads, “We will reflect the changing demographics of the community in both coverage and hiring, recognizing that diversity is a core component of accuracy.”

Diversity is also a core component of good business. It contributes to better product design, higher customer satisfaction, healthier management practices, stronger governance and higher financial returns, as myriad studies have proven.

I want to say with confidence that 2016 will be the year women are finally paid equally to men in similar roles with similar output. But I can’t. I fear that women will continue to be paid less than men in similar roles, even if the output is better, not just equal.

Perhaps I’m jaded by 25 years in business, nonprofits and academia in Silicon Valley, where educated, innovative women are capable of making great contributions, but are given less opportunity to do so and rewarded less for those contributions than men.

I want to say with confidence that 2016 will be the year women are finally paid equally to men in similar roles with similar output. But I can’t.

2015 was the year Governor Jerry Brown signed into California law the nation’s toughest equal-pay law, and the year Ellen Pao led by letting her professional experiences and personal flaws get trotted out for the world to see and be recorded in court records. Future generations will know what it was like for women in venture capital at the turn of this century. I hoped this was enough to get the ball rolling. Technology companies like Intel and Salesforce offer some promise for growing the numbers of women in the workforce by setting aggressive goals to do so.

What will it take to make the number on those women’s paychecks bigger? Nothing short of white-hat hacking, I fear. Can hacking be ethical?

The “hacker ethic,” as coined by Steven Levy in his 1984 book, “Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution,” identifies access, freedom of information and improved quality of life as the tenets of this philosophy, according to Wikipedia. These are the principles we need to apply to level the paying field, in addition to the playing field, for women.

Silicon Valley types like to see themselves as innovation leaders, making the world a better place. Paying women equally is a great place to lead. Too many women are hundreds of thousands of dollars behind our male counterparts of similar experience and role. Perhaps the only way that can be proved is with greater salary transparency.

It was this time last year that hackers into Sony’s email revealed what leaders at the entertainment giant thought about some of their stars. That seems to have stayed in the public consciousness longer than the fact that the salary information also revealed indicated unequal pay between genders at Sony.

Silicon Valley types like to see themselves as innovation leaders, making the world a better place. Paying women equally is a great place to lead.

We need data from more companies to see the current state of pay before the depth and breadth of the issue can be appreciated and addressed. Absent hacking in the salary databases of tech companies, perhaps an enlightened male leader or two can do for compensation what Mark Zuckerberg has done recently for parental leave — lead by example. Show us the pay of men and women in your companies at equal pay grades, and convince us that the pay equals the grade for both genders.

Anxiety over leaving newborns is not good for mothers, children or business. Neither is paying Mom less than she is worth. It adds to her stress, has her question her value, and makes it easier for her to decide to stay home once she runs the numbers on childcare, carpooling, activities her children don’t participate in because she is working, and every other tradeoff being made against her welfare and that of her family. She shouldn’t be paid less, either.

My hope for 2016 is that one of two things happens — some men who can show us the data and money do so, or all those girls being encouraged to code might consider white-hat hacking the salary databases of Silicon Valley.


Ann Skeet is the Director of Leadership Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. Reach her @leaderethics.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.