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CEO Q&A: Black Women’s Equal Pay Day 2020

CEO Q&A: Black Women’s Equal Pay Day 2020

August 13 is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day in the United States, a day that marks how far into 2020 Black women would have to work, on average, to earn what white men were paid in 2019 alone. You read that right: The average Black woman would have to work more than a year and a half to be paid what the average white man was paid in a single year. The latest statistics show that Black women are paid 62 cents for every $1 paid to white men—a 38% pay gap. As a result, Black women on average miss out on more than $900,000 over the course of their careers. 

At SurveyMonkey, we take pay equity seriously and run a biannual pay equity audit to make sure there isn’t any pay discrimination at our organization. But we still have work to do to ensure Black women feel included and supported at SurveyMonkey, and we’re actively working on a more comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy that doubles down on our commitment. 

So, to mark Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, we decided to open up some of the internal dialog between the leaders of our Blacks United in Leadership & Development (BUILD) employee resource group, and our CEO, Zander Lurie. We collaborated on the Q&A below to share some of SurveyMonkey’s approach to this work in progress.

Shonnah: There are a variety of reasons why Black women are paid less than their white male counterparts. Some of them are quantifiable. What’s SurveyMonkey’s approach to tackling the factors we can measure?

Zander: We are a feedback company, so we measure everything we can. That includes a bi-annual pay equity study, our annual belonging and inclusion survey, our new racial equity check-in survey, and our workplace happiness survey. We track hiring and promotions by race and gender, and every member of our executive team gets their own personalized reports for their organizations. 

We also share some of that data publicly to hold ourselves accountable. We set public DEI goals for 2020 and 2024. 

In short, I think we have a wealth of data. What we are focused on now is turning that feedback into action. For example, we know from our latest round of reporting that we could do better at recruiting and retaining Black women in particular. I am paying close attention to moving those metrics significantly before the end of the year. I’m not convinced all the data we are tracking will remedy the problem. There are more nuanced challenges to recruiting, promoting, retaining, and rewarding Black women. We need to hold ourselves to a higher level of accountability. 

Shonnah: What are we doing about the factors that are harder to identify, such as discrimination and racial and gender bias?

Zander: Like many other CEOs, I’ve personally been doing a lot of listening. We just didn’t have these conversations until 2020—where you listen one-on-one to the lived experiences of your colleagues. Without fail, each person could recount a story where racism and discrimination were present in the workplace. I should have been asking more questions and doing more about it. Now I am. 

The Racial Justice Task Force that you help lead is an open channel for shining a spotlight on personal stories and individual experiences that show how our best intentions at the top of the company don’t always trickle down to managers, who have a huge impact on people’s careers. One outcome of those conversations is our plan to roll out an organization-wide anti-racist training with a focus on managers. We know they are critical to weeding out bias in hiring, performance reviews, and promotions. I don’t believe we employ racist managers, but i’m increasingly aware that bias and microaggressions can have a disproportionate impact on the career trajectory of the Black women we want to retain and develop. 

We’re also seeing our team take a lot of action on a personal level, too. They are mobilizing to self-educate, organize book clubs on racial equity, and share resources. That’s been great to see.

Shonnah: Did you know that Black women face a wider than average pay gap despite the fact that they participate in the workforce at much higher rates than most other women? In fact, Black women have had the highest labor force participation rates among women. In 2019, Black women’s labor force participation rate was 60.5 percent, compared with roughly 56 percent for white women, Asian American women, and Latinas. Knowing those stats, how do we account for the lack of representation in the tech workforce?

Zander: There isn’t a single answer. But I do think too many tech companies throw up their hands in resignation and blame the “pipeline” for the lack of representation of Black women in the workforce. Boards of directors have always held management teams to account for product goals, revenue goals, profit goals... Now we are elevating goals for diversity, equity, and inclusion. If you come up short, there will be consequences. When I say “consequences,” I mean it will hit executives’ compensation and career goals, including mine.

The Kauffman Fellows recently released a report about the alleged pipeline problem, and according to their report, the number of Black professionals holding master’s degrees has increased 133% from 1980-2016. The number of LatinX professionals with master’s degrees has increased by 400%. Women of color—and particularly Black women and Latinas—are increasingly earning degrees in STEM-related disciplines. And yet we are seeing that the number of tech jobs held by both demographics are not keeping pace. 

Research shows that there are effective recruitment strategies that can increase the number of women of color in tech, and we’re working on all of them. This includes:

  • Having a paid internship program (so students from all income backgrounds can afford them),
  • Bolstering our internal referral program to incentivize employees to help us recruit diverse candidates,
  • Publicly disclosing our parental leave policy (16 weeks regardless of your gender or how your child joined your family),
  • Increasing transparency by conducting pay equity studies, 
  • Adopting policies designed to protect job seekers from receiving starting salaries that are tied to low past salaries, such as not asking the question to begin with, and 
  • Partnering with organizations that cultivate and foster the development of diverse talent. We signed a partnership with HireMilitary this year to help vets transition to civilian life.  We have also hired from bootcamps such as Code2040 and Techntonica, which have added to the diversity of our Engineering org specifically. 

Shonnah: While sexism and racism are distinct forms of discrimination that manifest differently, their effects are compounded when a person experiences both at the same time. This intersectional discrimination perpetuates the racial and gender wealth gaps, limits Black women’s access to educational opportunities, and impedes their career advancement. How is SurveyMonkey mitigating these limits?

Zander: My goal is to create an environment where every person on our team has an equal opportunity to do the best work of their lives. This year, I’ve learned by looking at our data that we can do more to address the specific needs of women of color, and Black women in particular.

We’ve spent a lot of time setting goals and looking at our data by race and by gender, but not enough time looking at the intersection of the two. So we’re going to start looking at that data—and other critical HR data, like the results of our pay equity study—with an intersectional lens so we can make sure the experiences of Black women and Latinas are visible. 

Shonnah: What are your thoughts on the fact that Black women make up just 1% of the high-paying engineering workforce and 3% of computing, and the few Black women who do break into these careers, discriminatory pay and promotion practices drive many out?

Zander: These numbers are embarrassing and we need to change them. We track and set goals around women in technical and non-technical roles because we know this delineation is important. This year, our goal is to have at least 17% of our employee base come from underrepresented minority groups, and for women to hold 31% of the technical roles and represent 46% of our total employee base. This is just the beginning—an incremental step. But we’ll have failed if just 1-3% of those roles are filled by Black women. So I think we need to do more—that means spending more time and money to achieve our goals. 

Shonnah: We just launched an initiative to encourage greater diversity among our vendors. How do you envision this helps Black women?

Zander: I want this initiative to help SurveyMonkey—I know more diverse client teams from our vendors will make us stronger. They’ll better represent our customer base, bring us more innovative ideas, and help us live our values in our business practices. 

We’re partnering with The Justice Collective to help shape a lot of our DEI programs, including our vendor workforce diversity initiative. The founder, Danielle, just shared with us that 97.5% of all Black-women-owned businesses do not have a single employee—largely because of barriers to accessing traditional sources of capital, like bank loans or venture capital investment. After five years of operations, these same businesses typically yield $23,876 in annual revenue. However, when Black women entrepreneurs are able to hire staff, in five years their annual revenue jumps to $776,289.

That means well-resourced Black women produce the same exponential growth as elite start-ups. Imagine the progress we would see in closing race and gender pay gaps if they received the same level of investment as those startups! It might not be the same as VC investment, but I hope through initiatives like this, we start to see more Black-women-owned businesses getting vendor contracts that can accelerate their growth. 

Shonnah: We have two Black women on our board of directors—Erika James, dean of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and tennis legend, investor, and entrepreneur Serena Williams. What powerful business lessons have you learned from them?

Zander: We have an incredible board of directors at SurveyMonkey. Each director brings a wealth of experience and relationships, and also empathy and insight to guide our leadership team. I have leaned on Erika and Serena a bit since racial justice came to the fore in 2020. As the first Black female dean at an Ivy League school, it’s fair to say Erika has overcome huge hurdles in her life to rise to the top of her field. She’s also an expert in all things race relations, corporate governance, and organizational design. I count my blessings every day. Serena is the greatest of all time! Not only is she one of the most celebrated athletes of all time, but she’s an activist and an entrepreneur. She overcame financial hardships and systemic discrimination to dominate her (all white) sport. Having her join our All Hands meetings is a huge boost to morale; having her advise me on race relations issues is invaluable.

Shonnah: What are you doing personally to better understand the experiences of Black women at SurveyMonkey?

Zander: Since George Floyd was killed, I’ve been in close collaboration with you and the  other leaders of BUILD. I’ve appreciated you bringing your personal stories and those of your colleagues into our conversations. Listening to story after story has been emotionally draining… yet I still can’t fathom what it’s like to actually stand in the shoes of my colleagues who have been victims of discrimination. That’s where I have a bit of shame—because I have the power to bring change. 

I’ve been reading and watching some of the great content out there to get smarter (so many beautiful movies and books on this topic). I’ve also been reading our own research, and new reports like the State of Black Women in Corporate America from LeanIn.Org. I’m as focused on ensuring racial justice at SurveyMonkey as I am in delivering world-class products to our customers and outsized returns for our shareholders. When we focus, when we align goals and incentives, when we truly get close to the problem… that’s when we bring positive change. Nothing would make me more satisfied as a leader of SurveyMonkey.