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“5 Things We Need To Do To Close The Gender Wage Gap”, with John Schwarz CEO of Visier

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis


Organizations need to take both a macro and micro look at their pay practices to understand if they are fairly compensating their employees. If there is a clear difference in scale or compa ratios, then it is clear there is a bias.


As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the gender wage gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing John Schwarz. John is the Founder and CEO of Visier Inc., a cloud-based analytics platform that helps professionals ask the right questions, see important truths about their business, and plan a better future. Prior to founding Visier, John led Business Objects from 2005 to 2010, where he doubled the size and profitability of the company and guided it through seven strategic acquisitions, including its sale to SAP in 2008. John then joined the SAP Executive Board and oversaw the successful integration and expansion of SAP’s Business Intelligence unit. John was also President and Chief Operating Officer of Symantec during the period of its biggest expansion from 2001 to 2005. He began his career in technology at IBM, where he spent 25 years contributing to its evolution from a hardware company to a software-and-services led business. A respected industry expert, John has been covered in publications such as the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, TechCrunch, and VentureBeat. John is a Director on the Boards of Synopsys, Teradata and Chairman of the Board of Avast, as well as a former board member of SuccessFactors and Verity, and a member of the Dalhousie University Advisory Board.


Thank you so much for joining us John! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?

I was a brand new immigrant to Canada from central Europe when I started my college education. In my old country, as far as I knew, computers were secret machines only used by the police to keep tabs on citizens. When I started college in Canada, I had to use computers to do analysis on data in my chemistry class. The idea that I could program a machine and give it some data to return an answer to a question was so exciting that I switched majors and joined the first graduating class of computer science at my college. The rest, as they say, is history. Today, my firm is developing analytics to keep tabs on employees — but to help them to be successful, not to punish them for having inconvenient relationships.

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

My first developer role was managing a payroll system in an insurance company that employed people in 54 different countries. They paid them from a central payroll system operated at the HQ. My job was ensuring that all the taxation changes passed in 54 countries were implemented on time so we could cut accurate checks. The challenge was that most of the countries pass laws effective on January 1 of the new year. Guess where I spent my time from Thanksgiving to New Years? Sleeping under my desk and just going home to shower and get clean clothes.

Can you share a story about the funniest or most interesting mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

My most interesting mistake was made mid-career. I was running one of the most successful development sites in my company, with a really significant mission. I was about 2 years into this role, things were going really well and I was having a great time. Then the company changed CEOs, and I was asked to move roles (and re-locate) to become his technology advisor. This was a staff role, with no operational content. Just be an advisor to the CEO. I turned it down. In retrospect, this was the dumbest decision of my career. The new CEO was very successful, and all the people on his staff went on to great achievements in the business. I made up for it later in my career, but never stopped wondering what might have been had I made the change. I have never passed up an opportunity since.

Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. Even in 2019, women still earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. Can you explain three of the main factors that are causing the wage gap?

The conversation about the wage gap is usually limited to the direct numbers comparison, and while that is an easy way of showcasing the disparity, it doesn’t paint a broad enough picture to truly understand what’s happening.

What we have discovered is that the wage gap starts to form at around the age of 32, which coincidentally is the average age at which women start to have children. The gap grows from there until about the age of 45, and then it narrows a bit because women tend to have a better performance rating at mid-career than men, but women never catch up completely. The early thirties are also the age at which people reach their first supervisory position. Women are under-represented as supervisors, and supervisory positions carry a much higher pay than individual contributors, ergo women end up with lower average compensation than their male colleagues in the same age cohort.

One of the driving factors that can be attributed to the wage gap is the penalty of motherhood. By that I mean, in families who chose to have children, it’s much more likely that the woman of the household will take maternity leave than the man. While this seems innocent enough, what can happen is women who do take maternity leave may be perceived as prioritizing their family over their career, even unconsciously. This leads to fewer opportunities when they return to work, not to mention that the time taken off puts them behind their (male) colleagues who decided to stay. Even if the environment in the organization eliminates the perception bias, the simple fact that the woman is absent from the job for a year or more means that she will get her promotion later than the male colleagues, and the wage gap starts to build.

There is also the problem of relationship building. A male dominated work environment has built certain structures to allow for networking, relationship building and general social gathering. We’re seeing that these particular types of social structures, like after work drinks, sports-related outings, networking events, etc don’t necessarily help women in the workforce, especially those with families who are unable to attend events during after work hours. There is of course more nuance to this problem, but it’s something that hasn’t been given much thought of until lately.

Finally, there needs to be more emphasis on learning and development opportunities for women, including mentorship. A shortage of female leadership naturally means fewer natural opportunities for women to seek out successful role models and mentors. It has long been demonstrated that a successful female role model has a dramatic knock on positive drag -along effect on other women in the organization.

Can you share with our readers what your work is doing to help close the gender wage gap?

We specialize in people analytics and workforce data. That means we take the raw data, that every company has on their employees, and help provide meaningful insights into their people. By having these insights at their fingertips, organizations are able to clearly see aspects like their gender diversity (overall and in departmental levels), hiring practices, potential bias, gaps in learning and development and employee relationships. We also deliver benchmarks for comparisons relative to the 7 million employees in our database.

We provide the tools and the best practices for organizations to be able to make the necessary changes, but it’s up to the companies to utilize the insights to the best advantage. Our customers generally produce 2 times the ROIC of the average in their industry.

Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the gender wage gap. Please share a story or example for each.

It will take a combination of societal changes and individual business changes in order for this to work:

1) Examine pay practices at every level to ensure fairness across employee segments.

Organizations need to take both a macro and micro look at their pay practices to understand if they are fairly compensating their employees. If there is a clear difference in scale or compa ratios, then it is clear there is a bias.

2) Examine the distribution of gender across all levels and functions of the organization. Look for outlier departments and assess the reasons why they are different. Look for bias in promotions to management.

3) Measure and monitor efforts for a more inclusive and diverse workforce. Look for outliers and examine the reasons for the different outcomes. Ensure that there is gender balance in the leadership of the organization at all levels. In California, there is a quota on women in the boardroom. Why not in other, far less responsible positions?

4) Stop penalizing women for maternity leave. Offer women who commit to return to their job positions from maternity leave in a reasonable timeframe the same promotion opportunity as their colleagues who hadn’t taken a leave. Count the maternity leave as time in the job. Offer a subsidy for daycare.

5) Ensure that women in your organization have access to female mentors even if you have to import them from the outside.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe that the most serious problem created by technology is that people who work in lagging industries are being left behind. They are left without hope. The consequences are awful — populist governments, opioid addiction, mass shootings, xenophobia and racism. If I could do just one thing, it would be to give these people new hope — a hope in finding a meaningful role, a living wage for the family, a future that is promising. I believe this could be achieved by a massive investment in industries that will replace carbon-based energy and transportation, and by a significant investment in the retraining of people whose jobs are at risk of being obsolete. We will have to do this anyway — if we don’t fix global warming, we will pay for relocating cities to higher ground, defending our borders from masses of displaced migrants and our homes from angry unemployed people.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of madness.” Albert Einstein. In tech, core innovation happens every three to five years. Companies begin to stagnate as a result of the ‘innovator’s dilemma’. In essence, companies that have a business with a critical mass have a problem re-inventing themselves because the re-invention usually cannibalizes the current business. I used to think this only applies to very large businesses. Not true — every business that has reached a critical mass is subject to this challenge. The relentless pace of innovation will undermine every economic endeavor. Those that want to keep doing the same thing over again do so at their peril. In fact, the pace of innovation is accelerating.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I think a meeting with Dr. Yuval Harari would be incredibly insightful. I’ve enjoyed reading his work and commentary on how we as a species have evolved, and where we could be heading in the future. As a person who has some influence on the future of work and the impact of AI, I would like to learn where to draw the line.

This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.

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