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This year's Open Government Partnership (OGP) Summit will focus on the linkages between gender equality, inclusion, and open government through its "Break the Roles" campaign, which encourages commitments from government partners to narrow global gender gaps.

One way to "break the roles" and minimize the risk of bias and inequity in the workplace is to increase employers' transparency. Publishing information about pay and broader compensation opens up for examination any disparities that exist between employees of different genders, races, and ages.

In recent years, some companies have opened up payroll data in light of evidence that women are, on average, paid and promoted less than men. But in terms of the number of firms worldwide publishing pay data, we’ve barely scratched the surface. Without public access to this data, it’s hard to know where the problems are, and what is needed to close the gap.

Why is opening gender pay data a promising way forward?

Evidence shows that gender pay gaps shrink when companies are required to disclose them; recent research on pay transparency legislation in Denmark found the gender wage gap decline by approximately two percentage points. Closing the gap is beneficial for employers as well as employees, helping improve business performance and employee satisfaction.

The CRM company Salesforce discloses pay differences by gender and race as part of its commitment to achieving pay equality. Since Salesforce began its pay gap audit in 2016, more women have been hired and been promoted into leadership roles, and 92 percent of employees (up from 80 percent) state that they are paid fairly. Cindy Robbins, Chief People Officer at Salesforce, states: “The power is in the data. Every company, no matter the size, you have all the data. There's really no excuse not to look at it.”

To date, at least 10 countries have put some sort of gender pay transparency regulation in place. The UK government recently mandated all employers with at least 250 staff report the difference between what they pay men versus women. Similar mandates exist elsewhere, including Canada, France, and Sweden, but only two OGP commitments currently focus on equal pay. By mainstreaming gender equality into OGP commitments, the OGP community is in a unique position to change this story.

To most effectively move the needle, the way we collect, share, and use data on gender pay gaps must be approached carefully and rigorously. Even among firms that have committed to pay transparency, there are still challenges: a recent pay equity review conducted by Google led to raises for thousands of male software engineers, demonstrating how institutional biases in the sources of data and models used to assess compensation can instead exacerbate gaps.

An equally important part of reducing inequalities in the workforce will be how pay data is being collected and analyzed—the methodological approach and specific metrics that are being used, including publishing disaggregate data while safeguarding privacy. The Google analysis failed to reflect many of the underlying factors that contribute to gender gaps, such as discrepancies in who is being hired and promoted. It revealed that “objective” quantitative data is actually derived from a series of human choices about what to measure and how. Those choices risk perpetuating bias unless they are informed by the dynamics of gender inequities in the workplace.

It is important to remember that a significant portion of women globally are located outside the formal workforce. Those working in the informal sector will already face increased obstacles as a result of their location in the economy, so how do we ensure that conversations around gender pay gaps don’t further exacerbate the problem by rendering them invisible?

In order to be inclusive of all women, especially the most vulnerable, we need to work towards a better understanding of gender income and compensation gaps, broadening our view past pay to workers across the economy.   

Building on lessons from gender pay gap reporting, the Open Data Charter and the Center for Global Development will convene a workshop at the Feminist Open Government Day in Ottawa to explore these challenges. The workshop will help facilitate better understanding of how publishing and using accessible, comparable, and timely data on various dimensions of the gender pay gap could stimulate private and public sector efforts needed to close it.

Ania Calderon is the Executive Director of International Open Data Charter.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.