Gender pay discrimination: The $14.3 million cost of a shattered shame ceiling

Charlize Theron got another $10 million. Lily Ledbetter got $3.3 million. And even Ellen Pao, who lost her gender discrimination case, still cost Kleiner Perkins a cool $1 million. (It remains to be seen if she’ll have to pay it back.)

When it comes to men treating women badly, the last few years has erupted in a tidal wave of women breaking their silence and speaking out. From Bill Cosby to Big Eyes, the biopic of Margaret Keane, an artist who was awarded $4 million after proving her husband took authorship credit for her paintings, women are officially shattering the shame ceiling, and the cost is both unprecedented and stupendous.

Gender pay gap: Women break their silence but good

It was only a matter of time. The only historical safeguard standing between employers having to part with millions of dollars in pay discrimination settlements has been women’s silence. Now that women are no longer playing the shame game, it’s going to get very real very quickly. Each woman who speaks up about gender discrimination opens the door for another woman to do the same., and we’re seeing the effects in the tech industry in particular. Barely a week after the Ellen Pao verdict was served, two more women brought gender discrimination lawsuits against their workplaces, in addition to the concurrent lawsuits of Facebook’s Chia Hong and Twitter’s Tina Huang.

The discrimination is in the data details

These lawsuits aren’t terribly surprising, considering what we know about the disparity between male and female pay. PayScale’s Gender Wage Gap Report shows that female CEOs are paid 13% less than men across the board and that female software engineers make 12% less than their male counterparts, to highlight just a few findings from the report.

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What makes this even more significant is that up until now, women have managed to successfully get what’s theirs with only the most catch-as-catch-can intelligence. Lily Ledbetter received an anonymous note from a coworker tipping her off that her male colleagues made three times as much as her. Charlize Theron got clued in through the Sony email hack.

If women could be this successful at proving pay discrimination relying primarily on techniques popularized in Nancy Drew mysteries such as The Secret of the Old Clock, how much more successful will we be now in the rich information age of Wikileaks, Silk Road, and Google Earth?

The rich flow of data can also be a double-edged sword for employers, who can no longer operate on an ignorance-is-bliss basis. In the eyes of the law, whether you as an employer are overtly sexist of just painfully oblivious doesn’t matter. Or to put it another way, oblivion IS overt sexism. Why? Because with real-time salary tools, there’s no excuse whatsoever for employers to not monitor if they are discriminating against race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

Your move, employers

CEOs like Salesforce’s Mark Benioff are leading the way, though only time will tell if his is a practical reform or a publicity stunt. We appreciate the sentiment behind Women Surge, but Benioff should be taking a swifter, more data-driven approach that will allow him to remedy the pay discrepancies quickly, rather than “giving some women raises in a process that will take the next couple years.” Yay? Yawn? Yay?

Employers, you need to follow in Benioff’s footsteps and then outpace him, because the only thing that’s going to solve the fair pay issue is fair pay. Do not distribute pink puzzle pieces. Do not whip up an “every woman matters” covenant board. Do not force your lone female software engineer into a hostage-style recruiting video. (Yeah, we see you.) Just find out when and how you are paying unfairly, and remedy it. Immediately.

In conclusion, for employers who protest they can’t afford to raise wages for deserving female women because employee compensation is their biggest line item, this blogger would like to remind you of the opening paragraph of this article: $10 million + $3.3 million + $1 million equals $14.3 million that employers have now had to pony up for gender pay discrimination.

And they say girls aren’t good at math.

Are you sure your female employees wouldn’t win a pay discrimination suit? Sign up to receive a demo of PayScale’s real-time salary software here and begin protecting your company today.


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10 Comments on "Gender pay discrimination: The $14.3 million cost of a shattered shame ceiling"

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What about same work, different titles, less compensation, not the black card but the green card(money).

I’m tired of this issue as being presented as some epidemic in North America where there are clear laws against discrimination in place. Women on AVERAGE are paid less than men on AVERAGE due to choices in education fields, careers, hours of work, work schedule flexibility and risk-levels of jobs. Articles like this make it seem like employers everywhere are sitting in smoke-filled rooms purposefully perpetuating some sort of old-boys club. If you want to talk about the societal norms that cause women to make certain decisions, that is a separate discussion. But let’s be honest about where things really… Read more »
You may feel that “Us 20 somethings don’t care about gender like older generations do.” but just wait until you are in the workforce and realize that there is still a gender gap, when individuals with the same qualifications are paid to and appraised upon 2 separate standards, then they return home to complete their other role of mother, hoursekeeper, and Chief Operating Officer of their family. Everyone should care about equity – fair treatment involving equal pay for equal work, not separate treatment based upon things out of your control such as gender, skin color, or ethnic background. Equity… Read more »

My choices don’t make me worth less pay, male opinions do. I have 18 more years experience, more education, and still make 40% less than the male worker that I supervise. The opinion is that he is the ‘head of the house’ while on the other hand, I have a husband to contribute, so I shouldn’t be paid as much. This out dated attitude is still, unfortunately, very prevalent in today’s society.

My 22 year old student came to me last week and spoke to me about a real challenge she was facing. It seems she and a male were hired on the same day, same titles, same functions. He had a Bachelor’s degree, awarded in December 2014, she just got hers in May 2015. He was hired at $18/hr, she was hired at $12/hr. She was told that the difference was due to the lack of a degree. When she approached her male boss about reconciling the differences, now that SHE has a degree, as well, she was told that a… Read more »
To Sigh: you may not like what you are hearing but it is truth! I held a position just as my male counterpart and he was paid twice as much. No difference in education but I had more experience. I put in the same if not more hours. All of the males in our office made significantly higher salaries than the women. (Some more educated than their male counterparts). So maybe not all employers operate in this fashion, but a good many still do. And if there wasn’t factual data to support this, then there wouldn’t be such a big… Read more »
To Sigh – you have hit the nail on the head! I am a well-educated professional who has worked in several male dominated industries. My pay has kept up or been more than my male counterparts. I have studied recruiting, selecting, hiring, and developing females especially in the field of law. Choices that we make in our education and throughout our careers matter! Who we network with, and who is willing to “promote us” matters. Much of it is about relationships.Stop blaming the corporations and their compensation committees (who are primarily made up of women) for the so called gender… Read more »


You’re 20-something. Give it time. In about 20 years the gap will slowly creep up on you and you’ll get just as self-righteous.

Unless you’re a man, in which case, the only time you’ll notice is when your wife makes less than her male counterparts (if you’re ever lucky enough to have one).

I’m a male in my late 20’s and I tend to agree with Sigh. The majority of my managers have been women so the idea of women in business and leadership positions to me is completely normal. Now that I’m in HR, I see how compensation decisions are made. At least in our organization, pay is set into a range and then people move up based on their merit as determined by their manager (most of our managers are female). This is my first position, and my HR manager (a woman) taught me from the beginning to look only at… Read more »

The problem is that “old-fashioned” companies that believe women don’t need to make as much as men, are also “old-fashioned” about letting people know how much a position pays. There are millions of smaller companies that do not use pay grades and will still consider discussion of pay a disciplinary issue.