Apple is shutting down internal employee surveys regarding pay equity

Pay inequality is an important issue, and many employees across various companies believe they should be able to anonymously share information related to their pay with other employees. However, some companies aren’t a fan of that idea, and it appears that Apple is one of them based on the company’s actions.

The Verge has the report today. Some employees within Apple’s roster have been trying to prove whether or not the company does suffer from rampant pay inequality like so many other companies do. Apple, for its part, has insisted in the past that it does not. But the employees participating in these informal surveys are trying to find out if that is indeed the case.

The problem appears to be Apple, in that the company keeps shutting the surveys down.

The majority of these surveys are aiming to find out, in an anonymous way, how much employees make across departments. Especially as it relates to underrepresented minorities and women. The report indicates that Apple has rules in place when it comes to employees collecting data, and apparently these informal surveys are the incorrect way to do it. As a result, Apple has shut down three surveys recently. Two of them within the last six months, as indicated by one Apple employee in the tweet above.

That Apple engineer, Cher Scarlett, has since started a new informal survey for Apple employees — which she’s paying for herself.

I was looking at (a website that lets people compare salary data across companies) and noticed a few very low salaries in a certain geographic area that were 10 to 15 percent lower compared to other people on the team,’ Scarlett says. ‘Every time I looked at gender, they were women. I’m not going to say that’s a definitive issue, but it’s a prompt for anyone to ask if this is a widespread problem. We should be able to easily find out whether or not that’s the case so we can know whether people are truly being paid fairly.

The original report notes that Apple may be violating labor laws by shutting down these surveys. As one labor lawyer puts it:

Apple cannot bar its employees from discussing pay equity as it relates to protected classes,’ says Vincent P. White, a labor lawyer with White, Hilferty & Albanese. ‘If they were, they could tell people not to talk about pronouns. The logical outgrowth of that doesn’t even track. I view their effort to shut this down as an act of retaliation.

The first survey of this nature popped up earlier this year. In it, employees were asked to give details regarding their pay, as well as how they personally identify when it comes to things like gender, race, and ethnicity. There were around 100 responses on that survey before Apple’s version of human resources (Apple’s people team) asked employees to shut down the survey. The team said that the survey including personal demographic questions violated rules regarding personally identifying information (PII).

Another survey cropped up last week, but it was shut down as well. That time, the question regarding gender was what sparked the takedown notice. Apple also sent out emails to employees which included information on “prohibited surveys”:

Prohibited Surveys
The following employee surveys are prohibited in all cases and may not be conducted.

Surveys as Data Collection

Surveys are not permitted to be used as a means of collecting identifiable employee data without following the usual process to obtain this data from the People team. This includes any questions about an employee’s address, demographics, and so on, except for collecting country or region, which is permitted.

Using surveys as a tool to collect health information — including but not limited to health reports, testing results, and vaccination status — is also prohibited.

All requests for identifiable employee data must be submitted to the People team via the People Report Request Form. If approved, the People team will provide the employee data directly from their systems.

Surveys Requesting Diversity Data
Diversity data is highly sensitive personal data. If you have a need for such information, you must work with your I&D Business Partner and the I&D Insights and Solutions team before collecting any data.

The newest survey, the one created and maintained by Scarlett, asks several questions. They include: pay information, geographic location, tenure at Apple, any signing bonuses received, team, level, and more. The questions do include whether or not the respondent is part of an underrepresented race or gender, and whether or not they are fully remote.

Per the survey:

We want our colleagues and industry peers to have the knowledge of Apple’s pay bands and to give minoritized employees and prospective employees the confidence to negotiate fair wages and bonuses.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, based on Apple’s behavior regarding these surveys, some employees are getting suspicious regarding the company’s claims on the matter of pay inequality:

I don’t think anyone is going into this saying there for sure is a wage gap, whether that’s gender or race or disability. But it is concerning to everyone that every single time someone tries to create more transparency, Apple shuts it down. It makes it feel like maybe there is a problem, and they’re already aware of it.

Apple is required to release information associated with these details in the United Kingdom, as noted in the original report. In 2016, Apple confirmed that for every dollar men made, women made 99.6 cents. Meanwhile, underrepresented minorities made 99.7 cents for every dollar men made. Apple has since released a diversity report saying it has fixed that problem, though.

Apple employees are starting to become more vocal in these areas and others. And it doesn’t look like that’s going to stop being the case anytime soon.