The Great Pay Gap Caper: How Microsoft and Facebook Are Deliberately Hiding The Truth About Tech Money

by Shanley Kane on April 14th, 2016

Tuesday was Equal Pay Day, a day to protest the profound gender and racial gaps in working wages: compared to what white men make, white women make 78%, Black women make 64% and Latina women just 54%. Predictably, tech companies took what should be a moment of reflection and resistance to go on a press circuit: Microsoft and Facebook spent the day bragging that they “don’t have” a pay gap, and ensured news feeds everywhere were filled with glowing write-ups from a press equally desperate to de-radicalize the occasion.

To begin analyzing the announcements, it’s first important to recognize the pattern of tech corporations taking activist/worker movements and co-opting them to make themselves look good, leveraging their institutional power and influence over the media to get literally hundreds of articles applauding them when in reality, mega-corporations like Facebook and Microsoft are massive perpetrators of financial inequality. Of course, it can’t be lost on us that the pay gap parade provides an incredibly convenient diversion/deflection from how tech companys’ inexcusable diversity numbers are not fucking improving at all. Indeed, Microsoft and Facebook aren’t the only two companies who have jumped on the Equal Pay PR-bandwagon in the past few months, with Intel and Salesforce joining suit. You can almost feel the relief at the invention (and it is an invention) of this new, positive storyline: it’s a firm departure from all that pesky “diversity” press, even a narrative that positions tech companies as bastions of equality… hell, a story SO COMPELLING it allows them to interrupt an entire day of activism to center corporate gloating. Bonus!

This interruption, of course, couldn’t come without much white-washing, obfuscating and collapsing of issues. For example, even though The National Committee on Pay Equity (which organizes Equal Pay Day) is dedicated to “working to eliminate sex- and race-based wage discrimination,” Facebook didn’t even bother to address race OR the intersections of race and gender — leaving out women of color who are particularly under-represented and under-compensated in the tech workforce. Microsoft did compare the pay of its white employees to that of racial and ethnic minorities, but didn’t address how women of color specifically are compensated, either compared to white men, white women or men of color. This type of erasure of the experiences and realities of women of color is incredibly common in a tech industry that continues to center white women and collapse the experiences of all women into a (white-centered) monolith, ignoring the clear differences in representation, pay, opportunity, funding, and harassment/abuse that occur. It also doesn’t address other areas where pay and wealth inequality occurs. What about how trans women, queer women, women with disabilities, and/or other women who face different axes of oppression are compensated compared to their more privileged co-workers?

Further, any assertions that tech companies have “solved the pay gap” deliberately erases and obfuscates the true picture of gender and racial financial inequality in tech. The only way in which these claims aren’t pure lies is if they are interpreted through the most deliberately narrow, manipulative, perverse, short-sighted and biased lens possible. They purposefully ignore the way money in technology actually works, and the MANY interlocking functions — of which base salary is only one component — of how PROFOUND financial inequality is created by companies like Facebook and Microsoft:

Marginalized groups aren’t promoted at nearly the same rate white men are, which means that many people who SHOULD be in higher-paid positions, aren’t.

This is abundantly evident from company diversity stats themselves. As Maddy Myers draws attention to at The Mary Sue, Microsoft’s overall workforce is 73% male and 59% White; in leadership, that jumps to 83% male and 70% white. At Facebook, the difference is even more stark: their overall workforce is 55% white and 68% male, while the leadership is staggeringly 73% white and 77% male. How can you possibly talk about pay equality when it’s super clear from your own fucking data that you are keeping people of color and white women from advancing to higher-paid jobs in your workforce? “Well, we’re systemically preventing your rightful advancement in the field and thus keeping you from tens of thousands of dollars (and hundreds of thousands over your lifetime), but hey, at least you’re making as much money as other people stuck in the same fucking role!”

Again, this is ONLY “pay equality” in the most perverted possible notion of the term.

Equity is a HUGE part of the overall compensation picture in tech.

While Facebook and Microsoft are eager to get press on how they’ve solved the pay gap, it doesn’t take into account that both are publicly traded companies, and a lot of the financial benefits of working there (and the wealth that is generated for employees) comes from employee stock programs. Stock is the thing that mints millionaires and even billionaires from tech companies (read, intergenerational wealth). Even if people in the same positions are being given the same stock allowances — (which I doubt, but is more likely for rank and file workers for whom stock grants standardize as a company matures) — stock in these companies has gone overwhelmingly to these company’s white-male majority founding teams, early employees, board members and leadership teams. This breakdown of who owned Facebook stock at IPO is majority White men, with some Asian men represented and of course, Sheryl Sandberg (who, unfortunately for the cause of women’s advancement in tech, is the Devil). This is DESPITE the fact that, even in its homogeneity, Facebook’s staff is far more diverse than the people who have become the richest from it, and it’s USER BASE is INFINITELY more diverse. Like other social networks (ahem, Twitter), Facebook is built primarily off the free labor of marginalized people in myriad ways despite the fact that the resulting wealth doesn’t flow to their communities. And the undeniable fact is that, even when marginalized people ARE represented in tech companies, they don’t get rich the way white men do.

A far better metric than the “pay gap”: how much TOTAL MONEY EVER RECEIVED OR GENERATED by your company has ended up in the control, pockets, bank accounts and trading portfolios of white men? For most tech companies, I’d put that number somewhere in the high 90%s.

But hey! Pay gap! 

Beyond just the EQUITY that tech employees get, you also have to look at how VENTURE CAPITAL OVERALL works in this system, and the role it plays in creating gender and racial financial inequality in tech.

There are two important things to remember here. The first, is that tech companies like Facebook and Microsoft have generated HUGE sums of money for their white-male dominated venture firms. Take Facebook, whose richly rewarded investors include Accel Partners, Greylock Partners, Andreessen Horowitz; and financial companies like Fidelity and Goldman Sachs. Hell, Microsoft itself is a huge shareholder in Facebook. Not only do tech companies produce huge returns for white male venture capitalists, those firms then GO ON to put much of that money directly into other, primarily white male-led companies who perpetuate the same patterns of hiring discrimination, under-promotion, etc. Even when VC investments result in wins for their limited partners — representing far more diverse constituents than we see at either tech companies or investment firms — white men remain the top beneficiaries AND people in control of all the wealth flowing in the ecosystem. So on one side, tech companies are building their fortunes off the work of marginalized users, and engaging in hiring discrimination, labor exploitation and massive, systemic under-promotion of marginalized people in their workforce; on the other side, marginalized people are massively discriminated against by the VC firms profiting the most… and women of color and particularly Black women are the most underfunded.


It gets worse: NOT ONLY do tech companies produce massive wealth (built off marginalized users and inequitable workforce practices) for an entire ecosystem of white male dominance and financial gain, THEY THEMSELVES are venture capitalists DIRECTLY PERPETRATING under-funding of marginalized people. While Facebook doesn’t have a formal venture capital arm, they’ve contributed to large funds in the past; meanwhile, other companies like Twitter, Google, (whom I’m sure we can expect “equal pay” announcements from any day) and Microsoft all themselves invest in startups — and we can see from their portfolios that the same lack of diversity that is endemic in other parts of the “wealth machine” is replicated here.

The technical term for this system, of course, is ALL THE WAY FUCKED.   

Lastly: As usual, tech companies want to keep your eye on full time employees – NOT the contracted workforce that their companies are built on, and where they hide most of their labor exploitation and systemic unequal pay practices.

The recent report Silicon Valley Technology Industries Contract Workforce Assessment [PDF] highlighted the huge number of contracted workers who support tech companies, exploring their demographics, experiences and financial realities. The report estimates that there are “19,000-39,000 people in low and medium wage occupations who contract directly with high-tech firms in the valley” (a huge number of workers you can bet your ass aren’t being counted in data compiled to make “equal pay” claims). The report states that these workers, who are disproportionately Black and Latino/a (the groups littlest represented in the full-time tech workforce), “face substantially lower wages, and have substantially worse socio-economic circumstances, than comparable workers who are directly employed by high-tech firms.” Yes: many of these people are in fact working full time hours for tech companies, yet receive little to none of the benefits of other people with the distinction of being directly employed by tech companies as opposed to contracting companies.

Basically, the data that tech companies like Intel, Facebook, Salesforce, etc. use to make claims to “equal pay” literally ignore a massive category of marginalized workers who are massively underpaid, living in communities that tech companies are actively destroying through gentrification, and whose efforts to organize and unionize are often maliciously, illegally and violently suppressed on tech companys’ watch. Considering the movement for equal pay overall has deep roots in protest, unionization and other forms of worker organization and resistance, using this day to make claims to “eliminating the pay gap” is particularly offensive.


In light of the full picture of wealth inequality in tech, any claims that tech companies make to “equal pay” is nothing more than “lying with statistics”… and a purposeful intellectual dishonesty of the highest order. Beyond watering down and erasing the intersectional focus of the equal pay movement, it is completely misleading about financial inequality in tech; a diversion from the reality that the entire tech ecosystem – from discriminatory hiring and promotion practices, to the way equity and venture funding is distributed, to who is considered “worthy” of being a full time employee, to the way that tech companies destroy communities through gentrification while stealing business models from them — is entirely focused on generating wealth from unpaid, underpaid and undercompensated labor by marginalized people, and consolidating and amplifying it in the hands of white men. This new focus on “equal pay” posits a fantasy land where and when, if only marginalized people do get INTO tech, they will be compensated equally; but we know this to be a lie.

Good job stealing that thunder for yourselves, tech companies. Equal Pay Day is over for you, but unequal wealth is a reality for your workers and users EVERY DAY. The truth? Trumped-up claims of “eliminating the pay gap” leaves literally trillions of unequally distributed tech wealth completely unaccounted for. 

Remind you of anything?