Lessons on getting to gender pay parity, from a company that says it achieved it

Encouraging girls to study software is part of Adobe’s long-term inclusion and pay parity strategy.
Encouraging girls to study software is part of Adobe’s long-term inclusion and pay parity strategy.
Image: AP Photo/Eric Risberg
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Many big companies around the world are struggling to close the gender pay gap for their employees. But this morning, the software maker Adobe announced that it had reached the milestone, globally.

Men and women who work for Adobe are now paid roughly the same amount for the same job, within the same geographic location, in the nearly 40 countries where it operates, the company claims.

Adobe had already reported that it had arrived at gender parity in the US last year. In January, it hit the mark in India, where it was one of the first multinationals to do so, says Donna Morris, Adobe’s executive vice president of customer and employee experience. Earlier this year, she says, the company finalized adjustments that brought pay parity to nearly 20,000 employees across the regions.

Now the company will continue to monitor pay practices annually, working with an outside auditing firm to ensure that gender parity is maintained, Morris says. It also will map roles and salaries in newly acquired companies to Adobe’s existing jobs base, to ensure that mergers with other companies don’t throw the numbers off track.

Not too big of a stretch

Last spring, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff appeared on 60 Minutes to discuss his company’s bumpy journey to fair pay for all genders. That tale began with his initial denial that there could be a problem at Salesforce, and ended with his acceptance that even the company routinely named one of the best places to work had fallen victim to the myriad biases and policies that lead to women being paid less that their male counterparts.

Salesforce had to spend $2.7 million to create global pay parity, twice. About 6% of its workforce received pay adjustments.

Correcting pay inequities at Adobe affected fewer than 5% of employees, and eliminating the pay gap required less than 1% of global payroll costs. A key takeaway from the audit, Morris says, was that the company was already almost fair, and it was a point of pride for the firm. She attributes the findings to a three-year-old strategy to create an inclusive environment and workforce, and to attract more women to the field. For instance, she says, through educational programs, the company supports girls who are curious about coding and software development.

It also has banned questions about prior salary histories in all interviews,  globally, says Morris, “because we want to prevent carrying over prior inequity.”

The greatest gaps were in India

The pay audits discovered that the greatest gaps were in India, where more women are entering computer science, but where the company still saw many female employees dropping out of the workforce once they started families. Over the past few years, the company has been steadily improving its family leave policy. It now offers up to 16 weeks of paid leave at a full salary to all employees, globally, male and female, and including employees who adopt.

To disrupt biases that infect hiring processes, the company has asked that all slates of candidates be diverse from the beginning, and not be advanced unless they are representative. Just as importantly, hiring committees cannot be all male, nor all one ethnicity.

Best practices on pay parity

As other companies race to hit pay parity, they should recognize that top executives must be involved in the project, says Morris. “This isn’t an HR initiative, in my opinion. This is a company leadership initiative,” she says.

She also cautions against declaring that your firm has reached pay parity without having sound, documented compensation practices. “Do you have a way to determine the differences between different levels of jobs within the organization? What are your practices? How do they look globally so that you can take into account the fact that you have a distributed workforce?” (These are important questions, given how data already has been manipulated by companies to make gender pay gaps appear narrower than they are.)

Finally, Morris says, communication is the “wrapper.” Employees must have a crystal clear understanding of the company’s commitment, which may be especially important in countries where women and ethnic minorities are not protected by legislation.