Social Impact Heroes: How Maria Colacurcio of Syndio is helping to eradicate pay disparities

Kristin Marquet
May 6 · 5 min read

I had the pleasure of interviewing Maria Colacurcio. She is CEO of Syndio, a leading technology platform with a mission to eradicate pay disparities. Prior to Syndio, Colacurcio co-founded Smartsheet, a Bellevue based company that went public last April. At Smartsheet, Maria served as the vice president of marketing & communications. She is also a former Starbucks Corporation director, who focused on enterprise-wide operations in finance.


Thank you so much for joining us Maria! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I am a mother of six children — four girls and two boys. I made the decision to take myself out of the workforce to be home with my children while they were young, and once I decided to start working again, I quickly learned that the “motherhood penalty” is a real thing. I saw that spending time at home with your children is often seen as a liability at many companies, instead of as an asset. As a result, I had to work hard to prove to employers that my time at home was valuable. I had to start at a much lower level than when I had initially left the workforce, and in that process of climbing back up the corporate ladder; I learned that women face many challenges. This did not sit well with me.

There are other examples of successfully attributing value to work performed outside the corporate environment. For example, veterans hiring programs do this, and rightly so. Active duty military quickly learns resourcefulness, leadership and operational skills applicable to corporate life. It isn’t unthinkable that we could do the same for mothers (and fathers) re-entering the workforce.

The gender pay gap is a big part of this, and today’s solutions to pay inequity (equipped with complex analyses and a “one and done” mentality) actually perpetuate the problem. In fact, if “one and done” really worked, we’d already have eliminated pay disparities. What’s worse is that labor economists often penalize time away from work to give birth, or to raise children, so when using tenure as a “control” in these analyses, mothers are forever “behind” men. As a mother, this one hits home for me.

These and other aspects of current market solutions are designed to maintain — and even justify — the status quo, not to fix the problem. All of this ultimately led me to where I am today: leading a company and mission that I am super passionate about and believe in fully.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I believe we have tremendous power over our life trajectory. Finding Syndio was no exception. A few colleagues and I were brainstorming the idea of starting our own pay equity software company. A few months into our initial conversations, we ran across Syndio and even better, they were on the hunt for a CEO.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

After realizing that female founders in the tech space often don’t get the same equity that males do when they start a company — and learning that the motherhood penalty is a reality that working mothers face every day — I joined Syndio. Our company is dedicated to eradicating pay disparities in the workplace. It was like a dream come true. We are differentiated from others because we offer sophisticated regressions in a very usable interface. Our software also enables companies to identify the behaviors that are contributing to the pay gap and resolve those.

The consulting and legal firms addressing pay equity bill by the hour, and measure pay equity at a single moment in time. That process doesn’t let companies continuously update or monitor the pay gap over time. At Syndio, our team focuses on the fundamental promise of AI for pay equity and how, when combined with data science and empirical principles for organizational change, it can have a lasting impact on companies and how they hire, retain and promote diverse candidates and employees. After my previous experiences, I knew that Syndio was a company I immediately wanted to work for.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

Women are constantly facing an uphill battle in terms of pay equity. Companies need to recognize the problem, commit to addressing it, measure results and hold themselves accountable. To foster a healthy environment that goes beyond being “one and done,” companies must show continuous engagement and transparency to truly move the needle in eradicating pay disparity.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

I believe it is important to practice what you preach, and finding purpose-driven work is important to me.

In terms of my career, as a leader, we strive for transparency among our team and customers. Furthermore, the journey to pay equity must be transparent. Trust and transparency are two sides of the same coin. When leadership is not transparent about its effort to tackle pay differences, it misses out on a tremendous opportunity to build trust, especially among women.

Far too many companies keep their efforts buried deep in confidentiality and privilege, advised by lawyers that the alternative is a litigation risk. That misses the mark. Most people aren’t looking to sue their employer; they just want equal pay for equal work. Even if a company admits to a pay gap (the reality is that nearly all companies have one somewhere), the honest effort to solve the problem engenders goodwill and creates accountability.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

· @syndioinc

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Kristin Marquet

Written by

Publicist and author based in New York City. Founder and Creative Director of FemFounder.co.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.