The tech industry is not known to be a hospitable place to women and people of color: Gender discrimination, sexual harassment (a study recently found that 78% of women founders in tech say they've been harassed or know someone who was), subtle (and not-so-subtle) racism, and pay disparity (a recent report from Hired found that 63% Of the time, men in tech are offered higher salaries than women for the same role at the same company), are just some of the issues currently plaguing this industry.
But there's some good news: People are increasingly standing up to the rampant inequalities. Just last month, Google employees staged a worldwide walkout to protest the way the tech giant handles sexual harassment and discrimination. Many tech employees at other companies are taking a stance against inequality too, including a woman named Jackie Luo.
Luo is a software engineer at Square who is "working to build a better tech industry." In the industry, Luo is known for her activism on Twitter. Earlier this year, Luo began tweeting out salaries from men in tech, aiming to bring more transparency to the tech industry. We spoke with her recently about her inspirations, motivations, and why she believes transparency is such an important key in bringing about equity in tech — and beyond.
How did you first get the idea to start tweeting out men's salaries?
"It was International Women’s Day of this year. This writer, Carina Hsieh, asked men in media if they wanted to share their salaries, and so from that I asked if any men in tech would be willing to share their salaries anonymously for me to post. That was March 8."
How has gender disparity impacted your own life and career?
"In countless ways. I think the easiest way to explain how the gender disparity has affected my life is that I never wanted to work on it as an issue. I wanted to join the tech industry and excel in it, and I know that I have all of the abilities to do exactly that, but there are so many structural problems and biases that contribute to make it harder for me — and all of the brilliant, competent women I know — to succeed.
"So I’m doing this work to close that gender gap because, in the end, it’ll make it easier for me and other women to do what we really came to do, which is the work that a lot of men can do unencumbered today."
What kind of impact do you hope to have on women and other marginalized individuals?
"I’m not sure. I’m not the first person to point to a pay gap in the tech industry — far from it. Erica Baker, who’s an engineering manager at Patreon now, was an engineer at Google when she started a spreadsheet for Googlers to share their salaries within the company. That was huge.
"The #talkpay movement was a broad public conversation on Twitter about sharing pay numbers that made some major strides in normalizing sharing salary information with others. I don’t think my work specifically will have a huge impact — I see it as part of a longer legacy of work to help people be more empowered in their relationships with their employers and to work toward a better, fairer industry.
"So far, I’ve heard at least a few anecdotes of women who talked to their coworkers about how much they got paid and got raises as a result, along with men who told women how much they were paid and helped advocate for them, which is really promising and heartening."
You said in your viral Medium piece that "we need to talk more about how much we get paid. Fair compensation starts with greater transparency." Beyond tweeting out salaries, what does transparency look like to you?
"I don’t think that tweeting compensation numbers is the real answer to anything — I’m one person, and anonymous compensation numbers posted on the internet will only go so far in practically changing people’s lives. It is, however, a way of getting more people talking about the real answer, which is the normalization of these conversations.
"In daily practice, that means talking to people on your team about your pay; it means leveraging your position. If you are in a position of relative privilege, to help people get paid more fairly."
"For companies, it means developing processes and practices that are fair enough that you can be transparent about them. For instance, clear leveling frameworks with defined compensation bands, no negotiations on pay, regular audits across the full data set of employees to ensure that there isn’t bias.
"I think a huge reason why transparency is so low at tech companies is that, in fact, a lot of companies are not paying their employees fairly across the board by any measure. That’s why companies like Glitch and Buffer created such clear, unambiguous frameworks for determining salaries, which are really pretty unique in tech — they’ve really embraced pay transparency, and that’s required a more rigorous approach that doesn’t bias toward people of a certain gender or race or background. I think that that says a lot about the companies that haven’t been more transparent."
What role do you see men playing in equaling gender pay disparity?
"Eliminating the pay gap is going to take men. Women can’t do it alone. In terms of what men can do, a lot of it comes down to openly sharing information, giving advice, mentoring and sponsoring women, advocating for women even when they’re not in the room, and more.
"What excites me is how many men really do want to help and contribute to solving this problem. Again and again, with the men who DM-ed me their compensation numbers, I got the same story — that they had worked with a woman who was really competent and had the same or greater level of experience as they did, and they had discovered that she was paid less than they were. And they were upset about that and wanted to do their part in leveling the field for these women. I think that signals progress or at least potential for progress in a way that I wouldn’t have expected before I started this project."
What has surprised you most in the salary data you've amassed?
"Nothing has surprised me too much! I think I’m in a pretty privileged position in that I already knew roughly what a lot of people across the industry get paid — I’ve been pretty deeply embedded in tech since the very start of college, and so I had a lot of expectations from the start about what I should get paid.
"Of course, there are a lot of people who don’t have that, and they were really shocked at some of the numbers, especially coming out of the Bay Area. Personally, I think maybe the most surprising information was how much people negotiate.
"I heard a story recently about someone who asked their friend (who was white and male) if their compensation target was high enough — and he said no, raise it. So they did, and then they told the recruiter, and the recruiter met them at that number. But then their friend said to raise it again. And they did, and the recruiter met them at that number."
"That just never, ever, would have occurred to me — to ask for that much money in the first place, but also to ask for even more money when the company met the offer. What?!? But a lot of people just have entirely different perspectives on what’s acceptable in a negotiation process."
What would you say to women, racial minorities, and other marginalized groups who feel afraid (or maybe even ashamed) to talk about how much they make?
"That’s understandable, and you shouldn’t share any information that you think will disadvantage you or make your life harder. But know that you are worthy, and you are good at what you do. You deserve to get paid as much as anyone else doing the same work. Use the tools available to you to advocate for yourself, and push the people around you to acknowledge your value."
What's the greatest lesson you've learned in being open about what you make?
"It’s liberating to be able to talk openly about money. It defines so much of our lives, and we spend so much time glossing over how much we make and how much the people around us make so that no one feels awkward.
"Sharing what I make has made a lot of my friends and even strangers more comfortable talking about how much they make, and then we can just be honest about how money shapes our everyday existence — like what we can afford to do and how we think about and plan for our futures. There’s a kind of vulnerability and intimacy in that."