Google conducted an analysis of how much it pays most of its workers and found something surprising. It has been paying men less than women for the same job. 

This is a reminder that any company’s best efforts to achieve gender parity and pay equality may end up with exactly the opposite results.

Google was in hot water almost two years ago after one of its engineers, James Damore, triggered national backlash for publishing a memo challenging the company’s diversity efforts. Not too long after that the Obama Department of Labor launched an investigation into pay practices at Google finding that the company routinely paid women less than men in comparable roles.

To remedy these alleged injustices, Google has been boosting wages. Last year, it paid out an extra $9.7 million to nearly 11,000 employees to offset underpaid wages. That eclipses the $270,000 it paid out to 228 employers in 2017.

The big irony is that in the software engineer role, a role dominsted by men, Google found that it was actually underpaying men. They didn’t disclose how many men were underpaid, by how much, or what percentage of the total payout was to offset underpaid wages to men.

However, this result underscores the difficulty of trying to remedy perceived inequalities especially if they are due to non-discriminatory factors.

The national pay gap between men and women gets so much ink each year as feminists and the media trot out the tired statistic that women earn anywhere from 20 to 30 cents less than men. 

While government data attributes nearly all of that gap to differences between choices of the sexes such as hours worked, education, seniority, and industry, the left would have us believe that it’s because of gender discrimination. Namely, if you’re a women, your boss and employer are purposefully paying you less than the guy in the cube next to you just because you’re a woman.

Tech companies are under pressure – some self-imposed – to remedy this injustice, but as Google’s efforts demonstrate, they could trigger unintended consequences like reverse discrimination.

There are cases of real gender discrimination. The EEOC works to prosecute those offenders every day.

However, it’s more likely that pay differences are due to the choices men and women make. For example, a woman may choose a career in human resources or communications with traditional 9-5 hours over a tech developer job with long and irregular hours. Even among developer jobs a woman may be more attracted to developing the front-end aesthetics and user-interface of a website versus the back-end coding which pays more.

The point is that many factors determine pay. 

There’s nothing wrong with ensuring that employees are paid appropriately for their roles, but a crusade for social justice could lead to the wrong end result.