ProsperCity is shining a light on inclusive leaders who are doing their part to close wage gaps, end salary discrimination, and diversify workplace teams. In this ongoing content series, you’ll meet the folks who are bravely shaping culture. Listen to and share their stories, tips and resources. Keep the conversation going. Do you know a pay equity champion? Click here to nominate someone.
Board President & Founder
PDX Women in Tech
Social Justice and Education Non-Profit [sector]
PAY EQUITY PEP TALK:
Megan Bigelow, Board President & Co-Founder, PDX Women in Tech
How did PDXWIT start?
By 2011, I had been working in tech for 10 years, enough time to realize that the tech sector was not a meritocracy. There were not a lot of women working the sector, especially young women. I just assumed I had to deal with these realities. However, at the end of 2011, I went to the first conference that was dedicated to women in computing and it made me want to recreate similar powerful gatherings more often. My hypothesis: if there are more people out there, and we can keep bringing them together, maybe I will feel less isolated and better supported to continue in this community that I really care about.
PDXWIT started with monthly meetings in January of 2012, and in the second year, the organization started to take shape as we approached more companies in tech. Today, one of our offerings is a scholarship application that provides support for and access to conferences and workshops.
How does PDXWIT operationalize its commitment to pay equity?
First, we are a very small organization, but whenever PDXWIT is hiring, we always post salary details. Posting salaries is somewhat common now in the non-profit world, but it’s something we feel strongly about. We want to make sure it’s very clear to people what the range is, and to keep that range narrow.
Secondly, we conduct a State of the Community Survey annually. I’m still doing public talks about our 2018 survey data since it sparks very interesting conversations. The survey itself is open to the community, used as a way to collect information about demographics, how our programs are serving individuals and companies, and most importantly, we find out what it is like for people in tech and then share that publicly.
Through the surveys, we’re able to surface interesting data points on workplace harassment experiences, pay transparency, and workplace culture in the industry. Over 800 people responded last year, and our target for the 2019 survey is 1,000 people. At its core, we implement the survey to offer access to data that our community can use to make change happen.
The State of the Community Survey also helps us to approach companies that do not provide pay transparency. Pay transparency exists on a spectrum, so we clarify why that’s a problem, and what companies can do to shore up their practices. Some might think that the only way to accomplish pay transparency is by posting salaries, but that is not a very common practice in tech yet, so there are many things to consider.
PDXWIT hosts its own job board, and eventually we plan to re-launch it with badges, which will help companies articulate what perks they have within their company. For example, if the company has some level of pay transparency, their profile will obtain a badge that represents where they sit on the spectrum. This way, the jobseeker will have a better sense of the companies’ priorities and how they want to personally reconcile any badge gaps. We believe companies will want to earn these badges, that they will want to know how to do better, and we are here to help them level up.
What sparked the decision to implement these practices, policies or other actions?
The word I can use to describe why anything we do exists is ‘organic.’ Every single thing we’ve accomplished has come over time in response to solving a specific problem that happened in that moment.
The PDXWIT job board originated five years ago when companies would ask to post job openings in our e-newsletter, but we couldn’t easily post all those jobs there. We wanted a self-service, central place where companies could easily post openings and job seekers could easily browse them.
The State of the Community Survey originated because people kept asking for data about the tech community, for example age and gender make-up. Since we were already collecting this information, it made sense to also ask responders what it’s like being in tech. With the grassroots momentum that we already had, we were able to collect a broader set of data points than if companies were telling their staff members to fill a survey out.
None of these things happened right at the beginning; it was a response to the community.
How do these actions connect to PDXWIT’s values and commitment to diversity and inclusion?
Our guiding principle is to encourage those who identify as women, non-binary and underrepresented to join tech and then support and empower them so they stay in tech. Everything we do, every decision we make, every program we start, we ask ourselves: is it empowering, is it encouraging, and is it supporting this group of people? If the answer is yes, and it’s something that we think is well timed with the right resources, we do it.
One example is the PDXWIT job board. In the early days, we had only volunteers, so we had to be very selective about what we would take on. But the question back then was: “If we present this job board, review the jobs before they’re posted and approve them based on some high level criteria, does this empower and encourage and support people in our community to join and stay in tech?” Yes, because that means they will have access to jobs. Further, they will know that, presumably, the companies posting jobs care about our organization, and those we serve.
The same applies to the State of the Community survey. Does having this data empower people to make decisions? Does it encourage them to speak up? Does it validate their experiences? If someone experiences workplace harassment and sees data that says 17% have experienced workplace harassment and 63% of those people didn’t report it, they may realize they’re not alone. When they do feel safe enough to say something, they will have the data to back it up.
How have these actions had a positive impact on you, PDXWIT and its employees?
For me personally, this work offers a perspective that has helped shape who I am as an employee, a manager, and who I am as a person that exists in the world. For example, I wrote an article on hiring practices. Since I took the time to write that article and explore how I felt about hiring practices at tech companies, I was soon referencing that article in a manager meeting. I was educating colleagues on how their current hiring practices were actually doing things that were unintentional. The perspective puts me in a position of leadership and allows me to implement practices that further this cause.
Anything I learn with PDXWIT, I can take to my full-time job. I try it in my lab, learn more, experiment and bring it back to PDXWIT with ideas on how to make it better. Sometimes we discover a new thing we haven’t actually explored yet. I can only do that because I live in both worlds. As a leader in tech and by working in a big company, and experiencing inequities or challenges, I get to feed it back into the organization, which builds a healthy cycle of innovation and growth. In many ways, PDXWIT is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you were to mentor another business leader in making a similar change, what would you say?
1) Do not work in isolation. To a business leader who is responsible for a tech startup and wants to leverage these practices, I would say that that’s why we exist: to enable and empower you too. All of the issues we face today exist because they belong inside a system, so you have to find the layers of the system that allowed for these issues to emerge, and address that.
2) Start somewhere. This is a long and slow process, so start somewhere. However, it’s also important to be aware that one action doesn’t solve all of the systemic issues that have resulted in a lack of diversity and inclusion. By starting somewhere, you’ll start to realize the relationships between one issue and another within the larger system.
3) The best advice I’ve heard is “Don’t say it, do it.” It’s possible to spend a lot of time talking about the things you’re doing, but it could be damaging and also distract you from other important issues. We certainly want to recognize the work people are doing in the community, but there’s a nuance to doing the hard work and not talking about it. We want it to be tested and true.