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Class-action suit alleges gender-discrimination at Microsoft

A former Microsoft employee has filed a case citing gender discriminatory practices. 

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    Corporate signage for Microsoft in New York. A former employee filed a lawsuit Wednesday accusing the tech giant of gender discrimination.
    Mark Lennihan/AP
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Large tech giants are often criticized for gender discrimination as the number of male employees overpowers female by nearly seventy percent.

Several gender-based discrimination lawsuits have been filed this year including cases at Twitter and Facebook, following Ellen Pao’s highly publicized case against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Though Ms. Pao lost the case, “the high-profile nature of this litigation caused many Silicon Valley companies to ask themselves uncomfortable questions about whether their cultures exclude women from the best opportunities or positions,” said attorney Kelly Dermody, who has handled Silicon Valley discrimination cases, in an interview with CNet.

Recommended: Why so few women in tech? Seven challenges and potential solutions.

In the latest, former Internet-security technician Katie Moussouris has accused Microsoft of allowing unjustified discrimination of women.

Ms. Moussouris, who worked for Microsoft between 2007 and 2014, claims that Microsoft upholds a “continuing policy, pattern and practice of sex discrimination against female employees in technical and engineering roles (“female technical employees”) with respect to performance evaluations, pay, promotions, and other terms and conditions of employment,” the class action complaint filed Wednesday states.

Moussouris points to the stack ranking process that disadvantaged women compared to “similarly situated male employees,” reported USA Today. Procedures for evaluating employee performance are “unvalidated” and “unreliable” detailed the class action complaint.

This isn’t the first time Microsoft has come under fire for gender-based discrimination. CEO Sateya Nadella made a blip last October while speaking at the Grace Hopper convention for women in technology, when he suggested women shouldn’t ask for pay raises.

In an email apology to company employees, Mr. Nadella reneged stating, “I wholeheartedly support programs at Microsoft and in the industry that bring more women into technology and close the pay gap. I believe men and women should get equal pay for equal work.”

Though Microsoft revealed that female employees in the US earned 99.7 percent of what men earned in similar positions in 2013, the makeup of the company's workforce doesn’t appear to paint a similar equality story.

Of Microsoft’s nearly 120,000 employees, only 27.5 percent are women. The distribution gets worse if you look purely at executive or technical positions.

Apple and Google have similar biased employee numbers, with males accounting for seventy percent of the workforce and over seventy percent of the leadership roles.

At fellow tech giant Intel, inclusion of underrepresented groups has been a key goal, “with ‘diverse’ [which refers to inclusion of women, African-American, Hispanic, or Native American employees] applicants making up 43.3 percent of new hires for the first half of 2015,” reported The Christian Science Monitor in August.

While this highlights progress, it also points to a “disturbing staple in technology companies: [that] underrepresentation of women and persons of color is considered a norm – and not just in the workforce, but in the industry as a whole,” reported Graham Starr.

However, tech jobs do appear to have a narrower pay gap than other industries according to data released by Claudia Goldin, a labor economist at Harvard University. Women in tech were found, on average, to make 89 percent of men’s salaries – eighteen percentage points higher than women in health occupations.

Furthermore, according to the US Equal Employment Commission, the number of charges filed on the basis of equal pay act discrimination has decreased from 1,134 in 1997 to 938 in 2014, though sex-based wage discrimination can also be filed under sex discrimination, which has increased since 1997.

But is this progress enough?

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, in an interview with Steven Levy on “Backchannel," remarked, “In technology we live at a rare, fast-moving pace. There are probably industries where gender is more of an issue, but our industry is not one where I think that's relevant.”

But Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg argues that gender disparity is not only an issue that should be addressed, but one that could positively impact business profitability. “Men may fear that as women do better, they will do worse. But the surprising truth is that equality is good for men, too,” she wrote in a New York Times op-ed.

Though female executives, such as Ms. Mayer and Ms. Sandberg, exist in Silicon Valley’s male-dominated culture, there has yet to be a successful female founder. “Silicon Valley has never produced a female Gates, Zuckerberg, or Kalanick,” writes Newsweek’s Nina Burleigh.

“In inverse ratio to the forward-looking technology the community produces, it is stunningly backward when it comes to gender relations.”

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