November 17, 2017

By Aniko R. Schwarcz and Christine E. Webber

In August, our colleague Anita Hill addressed the current state of women in technology in an Op Ed in the New York Times.  As she points out, Silicon Valley is far from a “seat of human progress” when it comes to its treatment of women  ̶  many have recently  reported experiences of sexual harassment and hostile workplaces, and surveys show that women hold few top positions in tech start-ups, venture capital firms, and Silicon Valley companies and are routinely paid less than their male counterparts.  In reaction to that Op Ed, we have been fielding a lot of questions from women who work in the tech sector. Here we address the most common:

1. How can I tell if my company discriminates against women? 

  • Given recent events in the news, including the federal government’s allegations that some of the biggest employers in Silicon Valley systematically underpay women as compared to men with the same experience, it is reasonable to want to find out if you could be affected. As a first step, look around.  Check out your employee directory and walk around your employer’s campus.  What positions do women hold?  Are they concentrated at the entry-level and increasingly scarce as you look higher up the corporate ladder?  Are women tracked into certain divisions or types of work where there is less opportunity for advancement?  Or, are women simply not hired?  These are some highly visible indicators of how women fare.  Do an informal census and pay attention to what’s going on.  By observing trends in your workplace, you can start to consider their root causes.  
  • You may also try to learn what others with comparable experience are making in similar positions to yours.  One way you might start looking into this is via one of the websites that feature company salaries as reported by current or former employees.  
  • Some employers discourage or disallow the discussion of pay, and in some states such bans may be illegal.  For example, the California Equal Pay Act makes it illegal for an employer to prohibit employees from discussing or inquiring about their co-workers’ wages (Cal. Lab. Code § 1197.5).  Even if there’s no such law in your state, there may be other legal bases upon which to challenge a policy that seeks to prevent wage transparency.  In any case, such a policy can be a red flag that the employer has something to hide. 

The full list of questions and answers can be accessed here.

To discuss any questions you might have or to learn more about any of the issues raised in this piece, please contact attorney Aniko Schwarcz directly at 202.408.4600 or