The Gaping Hole in Silicon Valley’s Meritocracy Myth
Women and people of color are still being lowballed by recruiters, stonewalled in negotiations, and passed over for promotions
As protests against racial injustice erupted across America over the last month, I watched with interest as companies in the tech industry, where I’ve spent my career, came out with statements of solidarity, donated to the cause of racial justice, and promised to do better with their diversity and inclusion efforts. What got left out of most of these conversations was a reckoning with the long-standing problem of pay inequity for women and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). This prompted me to reflect on and share my own experience of being underpaid as a first-generation immigrant Asian woman compared to my white male colleagues.
When I tweeted about my experience, I was surprised to receive responses from over 200 women and BIPOCs who shared their own stories of being lowballed by recruiters, stonewalled in negotiations, and passed over for promotions.
One person claimed that women at the major tech company where she worked were often hired at a lower “internal level” (which determined pay) than male colleagues, even when they shared the same title. I heard from the female cofounder of a startup, who said when the startup was acquired by a larger company, she was offered half the salary of her male co-founders, and then they stonewalled and bullied her in negotiations, leading her to quit. “The whole experience left me so shook it took me months to even consider looking for employment,” she said.
We couldn’t help noticing that a group of us that included all five women in the class were making 20% less on average than the others (who happened to all be white men with computer science degrees).
The responses I received prompted me to write about this to urge leaders to fix structural pay inequity in the industry, and to offer advice to other professionals from similarly underrepresented backgrounds on how to negotiate for fair pay.