The Time When YouTube Eliminated Pay Bias For Its Product Managers
If you haven’t checked out #TalkPay on Twitter, you should. People are tweeting about their salary histories. Not verifiable and not scientific, but part of the desire to help drive awareness and close pay gaps for the same jobs, whether between men and women, or Caucasians and other ethnicities.
At the heart of pay bias issues are the employers who, with short-term thinking, pay less to people when circumstances allow it. Maybe because someone isn’t as good a negotiator as their peers for example. I certainly don’t believe everyone doing the same job function should automatically be paid the same — gaps in wages based on objective measures of performance are part of a good compensation strategy — but during my years at Google I was exposed to the wages of dozens (maybe hundreds) of our product managers across all roles, seniority and performance levels. And I’ll tell you, even at a data-driven place like Google, base salary didn’t always correlate with quality of employee. So at YouTube we took a radical step to fix this among the product org. Here’s what we did.
Outside of performance review cycles, we looked at the base salaries of all our product managers and where that salary fell within the salary band for their slotted level. Usually you would get larger salary increases at promotions and then smaller merit increases annually based on performance. We were months away from any annual review process but when looking over the salary data we saw something troubling. Many of our high performers weren’t necessarily at the high side of their salary band. Why? Any variety of reasons but most had to do with what their Year One salary was at Google and whether they were aggressive negotiators of salary during performance reviews or off-cycle because of competitive job offers.
So what did we do to those high achievers who were being paid same or less than their peers? We bumped their salary to the max of their current level. Over time, their performance trajectory would have fixed any imbalances — they’d be promoted faster, get more stock, etc but that wasn’t the point. Our nearterm goal was for our best product managers to know that we never wanted them to feel undervalued and that they could trust our desire to invest in them. In my opinion, the dollars we spent in off-cycle salary changes repaid themselves 10x in retention and moral. The idea wasn’t mine — I think it came from People Ops or Salar (YT CEO) or Shishir (YT Monetization Product lead) — but it was such the right thing to do.
I wonder if places like Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Microsoft, etc do similar today. It might be an overly idyllic version of the world, but given the value of high performers within technology environments, I’d personally never want a superstar on my team — male or female, white or black or asian — to find out someone else was being paid more than them just because that person threatened to join a competitor, or had a previous boss that liked them more, or whatever. Employees should ask for equal pay but smart employers shouldn’t have to be asked.