Qualcomm Pays £15m To Settle Gender Discrimination Lawsuit

Qualcomm claims it has strong defenses against accusations of blocking women in STEM, but will work to make improvements

Qualcomm is coughing up almost $20 million to settle a gender discrimination lawsuit that alleged the company was blocking equal pay and promotion for its women engineers.

The settlement further requires Qualcomm, which currently employs more than 3,000 women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), to implement policy changes to ensure women in the field have the same opportunities as men.

‘Meaningful enhancements’

In a statement of doublespeak on Tuesday, Qualcomm told Associated Press that it has “strong defences” to the claims, but “elected to focus on continuing to make meaningful enhancements to our internal programs and processes that drive equity and a diverse and inclusive workforce which are values that we share and embrace”.

Qualcomm will pay $19.5 million (£15m), with lawyers claiming the settlement could have a positive effect on the technology industry overall.

Silicon Valley - Shutterstock - © PincassoIn a statement in Qualcomm’s 2015 sustainability report, the company admitted that low numbers of women in technology-related fields is a challenging issue, but that it is “addressing gaps” in its talent pipeline to increase diversity in technical roles and leadership positions.

But as of July 2015 Qualcomm had just 36 female technicians employed in the company, compared to 351 male technicians. In executive roles, Qualcomm counts 252 women, compared to 1,515 men.

Qualcomm declined to comment on the matter.

The settlement is still subject to court approval, but Qualcomm said it would employ independent consultants to introduce policy recommendations for equality.

Pay gap

The settlement comes as Silicon Valley is exposed to increasing pressure to close the gender pay gap.

In March, Amazon was one of a number of technology companies approached over gender pay by activist investor Arjuna Capital. Other companies included Apple, Intel, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and eBay.

Arjuna Capital filed nine shareholder proposals in total this proxy season asking Silicon Valley to close the gender pay gap.

It asked these firms to reveal what they were doing to address gender pay equality, during their annual shareholder ballot. Essentially, the proposal looks to force companies to reveal the differences between men and women’s pay at the company.

The move came in response to Intel reporting it achieved 100 percent gender pay equity in 2015, announced in February. Apple said it has achieved 99.6 percent gender pay equity.

Amazon was the only firm to approach the Securities and Exchange Commission to gain permission to omit the proposal from a shareholder vote. But the SEC has rejected Amazon’s request to omit the measure from its annual ballot.

“Silicon Valley can no longer claim this is an issue unworthy of its attention. Gender pay equity is critical to creating a diverse and innovative workforce and tech companies cannot sit this discussion out – they have to speak up for fair pay,” said Natasha Lamb, director of equity research at Arjuna Capital.

“Soon we will see which companies join Intel and Apple as leaders … and which end up tagged as laggards on paying women a fair wage. Now, the big question is: Can you be an Amazon, or an E-Bay, or a Google, or a Microsoft and be pegged as the last major tech company to take action on gender pay equity?”

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