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How Tech is Helping Close the Gender Pay Gap ft. CEO of Gapsquare, Dr. Zara Nanu

[00:00:00] Kriti: Hey guys, welcome to WhyFI Matter$ I am super excited about today's podcast episode, and we're going to be talking about the gender pay gap, and this is one of them. The interest. So I cannot wait to learn more from today's guest, who is living all the way across the Atlantic ocean and England. Her name is Dr. Zara Nanu and she is a powerful advocate for workplace gender equality. And. Fair pay. So ours career, interestingly enough, started combating human trafficking and campaigning on women's rights issues. And now Zara is focused on working on how technology can help cultivate inclusive workplace. And in 2015, Zara founded gap square, which utilizes data science and AI to close wage gaps, achieve equal pay and embrace diverse talent ecosystems in the workplace. And in different companies, Zara speaks at various international events. She's spoken the OECD and also gave a Ted talk at the university of Bristol. I hope you enjoy the interview.

Hi, Zara. Thank you so much for coming on. WhyFI Matter$ today. I'm super excited to have you on the show and dive deeper into something that I'm very interested about. Which is obviously the gender pay gap and you have very innovative ways of helping close the gap. So I'm super excited to talk to you and talk to you about gap squares as well. So thanks for coming on the show today.

[00:01:52] Dr. Zara Nanu: Thanks Kriti. Thanks for having me. I'm really excited about covering this topic with you.

[00:01:57] Kriti: So what I really love about, I've read a bit about what you've done and I really like how you've even from the start of your career, you've dedicated yourself to helping and advocating for women's rights. And can you tell us what sparked your motivation to help other people specifically with.

[00:02:17] Dr. Zara Nanu: Yeah. I mean, it has been an interest of mine for a very long time. And I think it's because I come from a family of like strong women. I just, when looking at the world around me, couldn't understand where the other strong women and they are out there. It's just, the society is built in a way that doesn't necessarily showcase all the women doing this amazing work. So I've started my work in the space of human rights in particular with a focus on women's rights. And I worked in the space of preventing trafficking and human rights. I was looking at trafficking from Moldova, which is a country I'm originally from, to other Western countries and to Turkey. And one of the key things that kept on striking me is like the root cause of trafficking sometimes goes to the socioeconomic rights. And the fact that women ultimately had very little access to the economy, little access to money, and we were doing a lot of talk about empowerment. And yet in that word, empowerment power is a strong part of the word, but money is power and yet it's rarely being addressed in the context of women's empowerment. So that's how I took a path towards looking at pay equity and pay equality and more broadly women's access to the economy.

[00:03:27] Kriti: Exactly. My mom's mother was never. Ever introduced to money as a tool to invest. She was a serial entrepreneur and it was never a sustainable and longterm and money never was something that was going to give her power. So she's kind of still in this situation where she's dependent on others financially and. That kind of passed off to my mom because she's a doctor and everything, but all she knows is like, if you work hard, you're going to get something. But in terms of money, there's other, there's more power to it. And we learned through our parents obviously, but my mom is very adamant about, for me in the future. And even now getting into investing. How your money is working and taking agency over that. And I think we see it in a lot of countries, similar to India.

[00:04:25] Dr. Zara Nanu: And, and it's really interesting because if you look at that working hard, you work hard, you earn money. It doesn't. Necessarily work for women. And even in the US the pay gap is about 20%, which means to every $1 earned by a man or woman earns at 80 cents and equal pay day in the U S this year falls on April the second, I think, which is when women should stop working to have earned as much money as men did last year in 2021. So it's not crazy. It's still, it's still a big thing in the country around the.

[00:05:00] Kriti: So, what was your kind of motivation and impetus to start gap square? You saw this issue. So how and why did you want to start your own company?

[00:05:13] Dr. Zara Nanu: So, so the gender pay gap was, has always been a thing and I was keeping my eyes on it. And then one year the world economic forum released a report and said it will be 217 years for us to close the pay gap. At the same time, there were reports out there saying that. We'll be in self-driving cars by 2030. And there are other reports from NASA for us, as the saying will be when I way tomorrow's by 2030 with actual people on the way tomorrow. So how is it that when we're there and self-driving cars on the way to Mars, we're still 200 years away from achieving pay parity. And I thought, is there a way in which we can utilize data innovation and the texts. Being utilized in other areas of our life for a way to create more pay equity and people is there their way in which we can use artificial intelligence to start to want to pick our human biases out of the equation so that we can start moving towards pay fairness.

[00:06:08] Kriti: I really like. Idea of combining technology and taking advantage of all of this advancement in technology. And it only reminds me of how there's so many other sectors where technology is being used to help the disadvantaged or disenfranchised people. For example, even in terms of money, when you look at financial inclusion, we see a lot of technology companies helping kind of. Got more financial excluded. People included through FinTech, but it's very cool that you were able to see how technology is going to help close this gap that this issue we've had for such a long time. So what exactly are the. Ways and in which gaps where helps to close the gap.

[00:07:00] Dr. Zara Nanu: So initially we were thinking we could have gone down the consultancy rates. So having consultants who go into companies, look at pay data, understand where the gaps are, do recommendations for change, but there was a little bit of that. Didn't sit very well with me because we weren't making the most of tech. If we were going down there. And also we were taken away the decision-making power out of organization's hands and into the hands of consultants. And that sometimes creates that little difference in implementation because it's still someone else coming in and saying, this is the problem that you have. This is how you should solve it. Whereas we think that should. With the company, they need to have ownership of that decision. They need to have ownership of understanding what the data tells them so that they can take decisions around it. And so the piece of software plugs in a company's HR and payroll data, analyzes it and produces instant insights around where the gaps are, how much of the gap can be. Explained by people's experience by people's length of service, education, performance, and any other pay determining characteristics. And how much of it comes be explained. There's no data in there to suggest why employee a pay is being paid different than employee B when they're doing similar jobs or. Performing and similar functions. Data looks at that and we used to district regression models in the background, and we then provide instant insights to the end user about where all those gaps are that can be addressed and then recommendations for change. And why this is helpful also is that companies can then take more specific decisions. They can move away from the blanket approach as in let's do some awareness, raising into more specific. In the marketing department, we have an issue that career progression for women has stalled or in the tech department, we have an issue in that recruitment of young talent is not necessarily very diverse, so it helps focus attention into specific areas and take actions in.

[00:09:01] Kriti: Right. Exactly. Like you shouldn't be having a broad, general approach because how many times has that actually happened and how many times as it helped close the gap, do you think companies are willing to work with gaps square? Have you seen that companies are willing to a acknowledge the gender pay gap even exists? Because some people don't. B take the initiative and take this responsibility that it's on my end to help even close this gap. Are they willing to do all of this work?

[00:09:40] Dr. Zara Nanu: Well, it really depends. So. Um, on one hand, data is really helping push this agenda. Open this agenda off for this question, because before the gender pay gap used to be very political, like you could have people say there is no gender pay gap, it could be very emotional. So it was a very difficult topic for organizations to handle. Whereas if you look at the hard cold data, it becomes more manageable. It becomes more in line with how companies operate. It's no longer political or emotional it's. Very specific and very real. And then on one hand you have very progressive companies. You have progressive corporates, you have growth ventures, like the, the tech startup ecosystem, for instance, in Silicon valley that are looking at innovative ways to attract and retain talent. And they know that addressing pay equity is important to do. You have legislation coming in around the world, pushing for change, to happen. For instance, legislation coming in and has come in in Colorado that makes it mandatory for companies to publish the pay range for different jobs before when they publish the job ads so that people know how much they can expect in terms of pay and legislation in California, that makes it mandatory for companies to report on their pay equity on a regular basis. So that legal. Movement is pushing companies to start thinking about this more, in addition to the fact that you have the progressive companies already thinking about this, because they know it's important in order to attract young people, especially important in the current big resignation and in the current world where I think people are reconsidering, what work means to them, how much time it should take out of their lives and how the work should be.

[00:11:25] Kriti: I think you said a lot of different things, um, that I'd love to get into. I think the first one is obviously the effects of the pandemic on the pay, it pay equality and pay equity. Wait, I have a question. What do you like to say? Pay equality versus equity. There's a big difference between those two words. And I see it tossed around in different articles.

[00:11:49] Dr. Zara Nanu: It is a very interesting issue. So pay equality equal pay is a legal requirement. It has been the legal requirement in the U S a legal requirement in the UK and most OECD countries. And it's looking at equal pay for equal value. So equal pay for equal jobs. It's comparing apples with apples. So if someone's a project manager, when someone else is a project manager, With similar levels of experience and education, they should be paid the same. That's equal pay the kind of the pay gap. Sometimes I also refer to as the wider organizational gaps. So you have like, you're comparing the average man in the organization with the average woman. And if you are a construction company, you have more men including more. Senior roles. So the average for men is going to be significantly higher, can be up to 40% for instance, in the UK, in the construction sector. So they sometimes get used in to change. They are very much related. The equal pay piece is a legal requirement and actually could lead to employment tribunal and a lot of payouts to employees if they haven't been paid equally for the same job.

[00:12:57] Kriti: Okay. I see. So then going back to. The pandemic and its effect. I know a lot of people have started working online and even are continuing working online. And even in general, I know that men have taken a lot of responsibility and like childcare as well. Given the fact that a lot of nurseries and daycare centers have also been closed during this pandemic, it's been parenting has become a shared duty. So. What is your take on this fact that a people are finding jobs that are remote and be like men are also taking on this role that women have usually traditionally.

[00:13:48] Dr. Zara Nanu: Yeah, it caring responsibilities in the pandemic have been a big part of like impact on work for both men and women. And I think going bigger than that, the pandemic itself has had a big impact on the world of work. On how men and women perceive work. And I was watching a, a little piece by CNBC around the great resignation. And it was specifically interesting to see how many women are leaving their employment places because they aren't offering a lot of flexibility. And they're looking for roles that are more flexible and a lot more men are doing. Uh, I'm doing thing, especially the impact on the younger generation. I think we're going to see in the next years, in terms of how they see jobs, how they see work, how they see remote work and flexible work, but overall they affect some the, of the pandemic on women at work are indisputable. There is an effect. Women have been affected by the pandemic. Flexible working has become more widely available to both genders, but it hasn't been enough because a lot of women haven't been able to receive that support in terms of childcare or caring for elderly parents. So although their work became flexible, their caring responsibilities didn't go away. So. They had to juggle two full-time roles. I'm a mom and I have two young children and I was having to run a company at the same time, pulling two young children. And that is that's hard. And I think what the pandemic has emphasized for us is how little we value caring jobs in a society in that there was no support available when they. And also, yeah, the overall on the value of women in the economy, I think it has raised a lot of questions that were there for a long time, but finally they are in the open space.

[00:15:45] Kriti: And I think it's interesting when we talk about the value that women have on the economy or the value women have in the workforce, because I know that if you go back to like world war II women, Had played a huge role in sustaining all the businesses. And they were the majority of the workforce at the time, obviously because the men were out at war. But I think it's interesting how after world war II happened and everyone was back to normal. Women's role kind of splint back down, they regressed. So I think it's interesting how we do know the value women have, but it's just not being able to manifest itself.

[00:16:34] Dr. Zara Nanu: Absolutely. And that is actually really interesting and critical time you're mentioning and the way how we value jobs, because when women went to cover for those jobs, they were paid less and the justification was, we can't pay you lots. We're in a war. Now we need to like pay people less, except the war has been and gone. Pay has still stayed as less than what men were earning. And even in a post-war world when men were coming back into the economy and they were actually looking at valuing their jobs research shows that a lot of men valued jobs as less, if they were done by women, even when that had an impact on their family. So even that their partner would bring home less than. They still valued. That job was less. So now we ha we still have a world where occupations that are dominated by women pay less than occupations that are dominated by exactly.

[00:17:31] Kriti: So going back to like the whole equality versus equity, where we can't compare men and women, because there's different. Factors that will affect a woman getting paid as much as the men. For example, April is the general equal payday, but if you're a black woman or Latin next it's different. So can we talk a little bit about that? Being at the intersection and how this affects your ability to get paid.

[00:18:04] Dr. Zara Nanu: Absolutely. This is such a big issue and we we've seen a bigger, bigger interest in pay by, by ethnicity and race pay by disability. In the past few years, and that's all stemmed from companies starting to look at the gender pay gap and then understanding that actually there's multiple, there's a lot more other intersectional indicators in there that we have to look at in order to get the better picture and much like in the U S in the UK, we have. Big gaps by ethnicity and race. And once you start looking at the intersection between gender and ethnicity, they become even bigger gaps. It's a big indicator that needs to be addressed. And I think it's best addressed when they're done in conjunction together so that the fuller picture of diversity and inclusion can be, can be understood and looked at, of course, because like you can't just generalize it anymore.

[00:19:00] Kriti: I was wondering if. You in particular, like you had any issue when you are starting gaps square, did you have issues with getting funding? Because I've read a lot of stories about female entrepreneurs and how, when they go CVCs they can't understand the product they're selling or they just. People will associate with people who are like them, you know? So I was wondering if you had any experiences like that founding gap square.

[00:19:31] Dr. Zara Nanu: Yeah. So initially when we started gap square, I had this whole picture about what it's like to run a tech startup. You draw a prototype, you put together a business plan. You raise. Funding you then raise series a series B and that's what defines the success of your tech company. Except when I started going out to try and raise that money, I came up across a big wall where actually only 1% of VC funding that year was being given to female entrepreneurs in Europe. So 1% is, is 1 cent to every $1 that is such a small figure. I had no chance. So we have then decided to beat Stripe and grow the company through. Growing our customer base and taking the product to market and getting more companies to use guts square, therefore growing gap square that way. But the issue of raising money for female entrepreneurs is a big one. And you actually are more likely to see bootstrapped female businesses. And there's some interesting research done by Columbia university, where they looked at. Access to investment from the male and female tech entrepreneurs. And they analyzed, I think it was 10,000 pitches that were done at startup grind to understand, do entrepreneurs pitch differently, do men and women pitch differently. And when he came to the pitching, actually the research was saying they pitched the same. There's the same structure they pitch. Absolutely the same. The difference came in the questions they received from VCs. And from the investor. So investors were asking women more defensive questions. Why do you think you're going to be successful in competition as a, B and C? How can you prove your financial plans to scale are tight and actually don't have flaws? How can you prove that you're not going to be overtaken by your competitors? All defensive questions. And they were asking men. Positive reinforcement question. Do you think you're going to grow in the next three years? How big can you get in the next five years as your revenues are going to grow? And so the answers therefore were very different. You had men that were very much. And you had answers from men that were very much on the positive growth trajectory and those respectively resulted in more male investments than female investments in,

[00:21:54] Kriti: I think this relates to how there's a sort of myth or not a myth, but. This notion of a confidence gap or like women not being able to negotiate their salaries aggressively enough. And a lot of this again is blaming women and this whole thing to this whole systemic issue, I was wondering why is so much. Blame being put on women and all of this negativity and this, uh, stigma that women can negotiate. And women are less confident than men when clearly it's not the case. They can pitch an idea exactly the same. Can we talk more about this?

[00:22:40] Dr. Zara Nanu: Yeah. So I think the narrative of its own women to fix this has been with us for a very long time. Uh, and it culminated in the lean in kind of movement and book from Sheryl Sandberg, which was all about kind of, if you lean in and if you step forward, you're going to be successful. You're going to make it. Whereas what women then saw is that actually there's so many systemic inequalities that actually it's, you can lean in. A lot and still not be able to make it on par with men who are of your age or your equivalent and experience and education. So the conversation is now very much moving from women's fault to actually our organizational structures, our societal biases, our own inherent biases as decision makers within organizations. So that we can all cumulatively understand how we can create that space, where women ethnic minority groups can actually be themselves. And this also raises an interesting question around what does confidence mean? I think in the workplace we take confidence. We've always. Assigned confidence. This definition that is very male. It needs to be confidence. Very loud. Confidence is being very forceful about what, whereas there's the confidence can take different shapes and forms and. Confidence in listening and hearing other people's voices and then bringing those voices together. So reshifting what we understand for confidence is also important when it comes to negotiation I have of salaries or career progression, I think has been really important. What, for instance, states like New York have done where they prohibit employers from asking history salary of employees. You can't ask someone, how much did you earn. Because that has an inherent bias on how much you're going to offer that person. So it takes away that kind of negotiation blame while you didn't negotiate. So I offered you as much as you are in your previous job and puts that on the employer to be fair and say, this is how much we're offering for this job. I taking it or not.

[00:24:54] Kriti: I think it goes back to like in Colorado, what you were saying. Um, have the exact salary on the job. So it's not like they can, if a woman applies, you're going to be like, oh, I'm going to love her it. So it just standardizes everything and yeah, women negotiating, isn't the root of the problem. So I want to talk about patron a little more, and I know that. Uh, Iceland has a really interesting thing where they, they make it so that every company has to, they have like a badge, if they are, you know, paying their employees equally, or if they're being transparent, I think. And then. They in their law, they don't have to prove that a woman was discriminated. She doesn't have to prove she was discriminated it's on the company. It's again, the burden is on the company. Do you think countries are leaning towards similar legislation? Because it seems to definitely work in Iceland.

[00:26:00] Dr. Zara Nanu: I think transparency is increasingly coming through as a thing around pay. And it's driven by two factors. On one hand, you have examples of good practice in Iceland, but actually if you look at the world economic forum report on the progress on gender that they released in 2021, the top 10 performing countries all have transparency pay legislation. So that. Means to all of us that actually transparency paid decision can lead to right around a equality and diversity. But then in addition to that, do you have a lot of websites that I encouraging a lot of transparency amongst employees? So you have some pages like Glassdoor where people can put their own wages. You have a lot of very tech specific ones in Silicon valley and. Upsize like this are, uh, popping up in the, in, in the U S a lot creating more and more transparency amongst employees. And so like, they have to catch up with that because they can no longer hide behind the fact that it's a structure that nobody is aware of because Eva has put her salary as a project manager on website. And so has bill. And then when you look at the two of them, there's a discrepancy in, right,

[00:27:14] Kriti: right. I think. And the Iceland law, it's all about public shame, basically. Like the public will shame you if you don't do this. And I was at first a little bit on the fence about. Public shame being such a big driving force, but I think it's working.

[00:27:33] Dr. Zara Nanu: Yeah. And besides Ireland, Iceland, we also have legislation that you can get a government portal that publishes data for, I think over 10,000 companies in the UK that publish the agenda, pay gap on a, on an annual basis. So you don't just see what the gaps are. You also see progress. You see that from 2017. Until now the company has made no progress and it has an impact on how people decide where they're going to work, where they're going to purchase their products, where they're going to purchase their services. And this is where I'm really excited about the younger generation, because they do place their decisions based on that they will take decisions based on fairness.

[00:28:12] Kriti: Of course, I know of so many, like millennials. You know, gen Z who are entering the workforce, who are placing value on the company's morals and their ethics. Yeah,

[00:28:27] Dr. Zara Nanu: absolutely. And we've also seen examples of where male colleagues have left their jobs because they saw that their female colleagues were not being paid fairly. And then. Stepped out of those roles. We see increasingly more and more cases where it's the men taking these cases to HR saying why isn't my female colleague paid the same as I am?

[00:28:47] Kriti: Yeah. We definitely need men to also help. And I know that men have. Been taking pay cuts. What is your thought on this to equal their female counterparts? So what do you do they assess sustainable?

[00:29:01] Dr. Zara Nanu: I think it's definitely an interesting one, but I think still the most sustainable bit is around bringing women on par with men rather than lowering men down to women's. Cause then we're not going to be better off the only way for all. To kind of benefit from a growing economy, benefit from fair pay is to bring women's pay. And I think minority people's pay up to me the actual kind of average for a job on average for an industry.

[00:29:32] Kriti: Exactly. Thank you so much for going through all of this with me. And just lastly, what is your advice to your 17 year old self?

[00:29:44] Dr. Zara Nanu: I think I'd say. Go big. I say this a lot as advice. I say this a lot.

It's go big or go home, just go big and try it. What's the worst that can happen.

[00:29:54] Kriti: Exactly. Exactly. I think, I think a lot of women have this mentality, but like you said, when it comes to actually creating it and, or at least pulling through the finish line where often oftentimes. You know, our motives are like, what we're doing is questioned. And I think it's important for us to just keep going at it. Do you know how many years it is till we're going to reach fair pay?

[00:30:27] Dr. Zara Nanu: So the current stats, is it 104 years, but this is why gap square. We're working at making that much faster. And I think to be mindful of the fact that we only going to benefit if we have an inclusive economy, if we have men and women participating in equal measuring, right? Yeah. Cause then what you have is you have more men creating and designing a product and then it doesn't always end up being suitable for the market. Right.

[00:30:56] Kriti: Exactly. Exactly. Thank you so much, Zara for coming on the podcast today. I really love talking to you. You're very, very inspirational and, um, I'm really thankful for what you're doing so that hopefully when you know, I enter the workforce, there won't be as much of a gap. So thank you so much.

[00:31:16] Dr. Zara Nanu: Thank you for raising awareness about this issue is so important. And yeah, I look forward to talking to you in the future.

[00:31:22] Kriti: So that's the end of the interview and it was so much fun talking to Zara, her point about how women and men can pitch exactly the same to VCs yet faced different responses from these VCs is quite telling and it stood out to me. And I think she really emphasized how the duty and responsibility. Closing the gap is in the company's hands. And I love how gap square offers a rational unemotional data-driven approach to solving this huge, huge issue for more information on gap square and Zara, I have their websites in the episode description. And also if your agenda. Please fill out the form listed in the episode description. I'm gathering data on gen Z and their relationships with the podcast super quick form. And I would be so grateful if you could fill it out. Thanks for listening. And I can't wait to talk to you next time.


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