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How This Startup Is Fixing Its Diversity Problem With Radical Transparency

This startup has a bold strategy to improve diversity and pay equity among its employees.

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BY Kimberly Weisul - 17 Jul 2018

How This Startup Is Fixing Its Diversity Problem With Radical Transparency

PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy Company

Joel Gascoigne is the co-founder and CEO of social-media management company Buffer, which cites transparency as one of its core values. The company has made public the salaries of each of its roughly 70-person, fully-distributed team--and it has done so since 2013. It also implemented a salary formula, which determines salaries based on industry averages, employees' skill levels, and the cost of living in various cities. Those strategies, says Gascoigne, have helped keep the company's gender pay gap relatively low, but they're not enough. Here, the entrepreneur explains how he's now trying to diversify Buffer's ranks. --As told to Kimberly Weisul

You'll see two different numbers used to describe a company's pay gap: the unadjusted gap and the adjusted gap. Far too often, companies are showing their adjusted pay gap numbers, which could be anything. You could adjust the numbers however you want, until you get to a number you're happy to publicly share. We're going to share the unadjusted pay gap number, so people know it is not changed or manipulated in any way. That holds us accountable.

Our gender pay gap is now 9.25 percent, down from 10.6 percent in 2016, which is when we first measured it. I don't think many of us were too surprised with these numbers, because we knew the makeup of the team. We have about 70 people, and early on, a lot of the people we hired were male. We knew that would come through when we did that first analysis. For us, a large part of the pay gap is due to a lack of diversity.

The way you can change the situation is through hiring, and we didn't hire a whole lot in the last year and a half. So our numbers didn't change much. During that time, we decided to focus on inclusivity on the team and awareness of the issues. We did unconscious bias training, which was really valuable. That was the best way we could address these issues when we weren't hiring.

This year we are growing the engineering team quite a bit. We're making sure there's a good balance of diversity in the candidates coming through our pipeline. We do feel that the engineering team, their productivity, and their output would be improved if we had more balance. We likely have some blind spots because there are so few women on the engineering team. And having more women would likely make the women on the team feel more comfortable in some situations. Those are things we want to improve.

Then again, we can all do better. In the U.K., companies with more than 250 employees are required to share unadjusted pay gap numbers. I think that level of transparency is going to drive a lot of change. In the U.S., we're unlikely to see something like that. But I am hoping we can drive change through more companies sharing the unadjusted numbers. And there's going to be a new generation of companies, started by a new generation of founders, and that's probably going to create changes in a much bigger way.

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