Women in Tech Salary Transparency Project: Addressing the Gender Pay Gap

Lizzie Kardon, Head of Content and Engagement at Pagely, was featured in a nationwide segment on NBC’s TODAY show last month. On the show, women talked about the wage gap and the issues faced by women in the workforce. Kardon is a part of a growing movement of women who are supporting other women in negotiating a fairer paycheck.

NBC caught wind of Kardon’s Women in Tech Salary Transparency Project, an open spreadsheet where women share salaries. The next step was bringing her on the show and featuring the work she is doing. “Today I went on national television to represent over 500 women in tech because it’s time to close the pay gap and start paying people what they’re worth,” she wrote in an article about the show and project.

The inspiration for the project came after reading a piece by the New York Times on salary transparency. Kardon wanted to put theory into practice. It was an experiment to see if others would be willing to share.

“I honestly never expected it to turn into what it is today,” said Kardon. “When I started this, the day after that NYT piece went out, it was slow to get traction. After I took the plunge to be the first one to share, others gained the confidence to do the same and it snowballed from there.”

The Salary Transparency Project

Currently, the project is a simple spreadsheet where women in tech can anonymously share their salaries. It has grown since the initial 500 entries when Kardon was on national television. Today, over 1,900 women have transparently shared their job title, wages, location, benefits, and years of experience.

The goal is to provide concrete data for other women to use in salary and raise negotiations.

Kardon expressed a desire to do more with the data than having it sitting around in a spreadsheet. One of the goals is to convert it into an ongoing open-source project. She is looking for partners to kick-start such a project with the development skills to compliment her growth and marketing experience.

She also just kicked off the first issue of a new Substack newsletter, No Gender Gap. The first email went to 209 subscribers. The newsletter is a more immediate-term solution toward larger goals.

“[The newsletter] examines everything from getting fairly compensated for your work and negotiating a higher salary to being inspired by women in leadership and finding progressive companies with the best people practices,” Kardon said. “I have a bachelor’s in mathematics, so I’m also stretching those muscles and providing data insights inside of the newsletter. One of the added benefits for paid subscribers is that they can ask me their specific questions on the data, which I will then analyze and answer.”

After shipping the first issue, No Gender Gap has surpassed 300 subscribers.

“It’s just amazing how many people are in need of this information and support, and I guess I’ve just taken it upon myself to provide that right now,” said Kardon. After her guest spot on nationwide news, she has suddenly become an advocate for working women over a few weeks. “It’s a bit surreal, and I can’t stop now.”

Camaraderie and Being Vocal

For men in tech and elsewhere, there exists a sort of bro culture where men are supportive of other men. This culture is not necessarily anti-woman. However, this camaraderie sets men up for success when it comes to negotiating salaries. Men are often open and push their male colleagues and friends to pursue a better wage.

“More and more we as women are learning how to replicate the positive aspects of that culture, inside of our own cohort,” she said. “The most obvious example is my recent salary transparency project. I think it’s fair to say that efforts like this are a somewhat new movement within the women in tech community. In part, it’s as a response to the ways our male counterparts have already established similar systems of support (and sources to boost self-confidence) in terms of their worth. I suppose that out of necessity we’ve begun to rally around each other in hopes to help close the gender pay gap. There’s strength in numbers, and women have realized it’s time to light that fire.”

The first step toward closing the gender pay gap is talking about it. Kardon said the best help women can provide others is to be vocal about helping one another.

“Talking about salary doesn’t have to be taboo anymore,” she said. “The more we share, the better we position each other to know our worth.”

She stresses that the movement cannot stop with data on salaries. Women must be vocal about their interview experiences and their work environments. They must share both the good and the bad experiences while keeping companies accountable for maintaining inclusive practices.

“For some reason, professional society evolved to support companies more than individuals, in the sense that we are inclined to feel uncomfortable sharing our salary, our benefits, how much stock we get, etc.,” she said. “We get scared that if we share, it might somehow negatively affect our position within the companies we work for. Guess what? That only supports companies because it lets them control the narrative. In order to support ourselves as individuals, and hold companies accountable, we should switch that practice to being open about our experiences.”

Kardon described taking those first steps toward normalizing these conversations as scary.

“In my personal experience, sharing the success of this project within Pagely felt like a little bit of a risk, but my higher-ups have been supportive,” she said. “They’ve published my successes across their social platforms, the Pagely newsletter, etc., which is great and has helped the initiative grow even more. I did feel like I might be stirring some sort of pot at first, but it’s lead to some more open conversations that I hadn’t previously had with employers. I needed to take that risk to continue advocating for working women, and I’m glad I did.”

Roadblocks and Systemic Issues

Kardon explains that some of the roadblocks to higher salaries are often self-inflicted because many women lack the confidence of their male counterparts in negotiations. Part of the solution is knowing what they are worth going in.

“The process many organizations implement today is that you, as the talent, go into an interview and are asked what your ideal salary band is,” she said. “This means you set the bar for how much the company needs to offer you. Let’s say they were planning on allocating $100K to this salary, but you only indicate $80K as your ideal number. Do you know any companies that would come back and say, ‘well, we think you’re worth more’? I don’t think that’s standard practice anywhere. To put it in plain terms, if a woman is more inclined to low ball herself to that $80K number, her male counterpart might have the built-in confidence to go ahead and aim higher at $100K and have his demands met.”

The larger roadblock stemming from this is that starting salaries will determine future earnings with a company. Raises are often based on a percentage of that starting salary rather than value to the company.

“After a handful of years, you gain a lot of skill and knowledge in your current position,” Kardon said. “But, you’re still tied to that initial number which oftentimes ends up low compared to the expertise you’ve developed. In that sense, the only way forward is to find another job. For women, we’re more likely to be undervalued over time because we didn’t understand how much we were worth in that initial salary negotiation.”

Kardon does not want to dismiss systemic issues such as gender discrimination, which are not self-inflicted roadblocks. “I think, luckily, there is a trend towards less of that in tech today — though it still exists, don’t get me wrong,” she said. “The best thing I can offer here, in terms of simple solutions that companies can implement to help address these issues, are organization-wide salary transparency and better people practices.”

One solution is for companies to follow the lead of Buffer with its publicly viewable salary calculator. This helps level the field in salary negotiations for all genders.

Another important aspect is taking care of people’s needs. Pagely, the company Kardon works for, provides three months of paid parental leave for both parents. “Yes, this is great for male parents, but benefits like this also make it possible for birthing (and working) women to get the support they need from their partners,” she said. “There’s nothing more isolating than being scared and alone at home with a newborn when your partner goes back to work two weeks later. People practices like this make sure women don’t bear that responsibility all on their own. It’s a small start, but a wonderful move in the right direction of equality and shared responsibilities in the home.”

However, more can be done. “Other women-led people practices to consider are reimbursement for fertility treatments and lactation consultations, professional female networking, women’s leadership development programs, and so much more,” said Kardon.

The WordPress Ecosystem and Women

While Kardon does not have data specific to WordPress companies, the data she has collected thus far is clear. Women make up to 10%, on average, less than their male counterparts in the tech industry. Most of this data comes from women who are developers and engineers, jobs that are in abundance in the WordPress ecosystem.

“Overall, on a positive note, I think the WordPress community is inherently inclusive,” said Kardon. “At WordCamps, we see a high number of female organizers and speakers, and there are a bunch of female-founded companies in the ecosystem and women being recognized for the work they do in our community.”

“A few examples of some of the most respected people in WordPress, who happen to be female, are Lisa-Sabin Wilson, co-owner of WebDevStudios; Tracy Apps of Tracy Apps Design; Rian Kinney of The Kinney Firm; Helen Hou-Sandí, director of open source initiatives at 10up and WordPress lead developer; Rachel Cherry; Andrea Middleton; Josepha Haden; and of course Sally Strebel, co-founder and COO of Pagely,” she said.

Available Tools and Resources

Kardon describes this movement as new-ish with more resources being created every day. As more women become vocal and begin supporting each other, the more progress our society will make.

The following links are to sites and resources where women, not those just in tech, can help each other and find more information (links provided by Kardon):

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