Amazon Joins Growing List of Employers That Won’t Ask About Your Salary History

Will this be the year we finally make progress in closing the gender pay gap?

It’s only the middle of January, but 2018 has already seen the implementation of new laws and policies that have the potential to boost women’s paychecks. The latest news comes from Amazon, which this week banned its hiring managers from asking prospective hires about their salary histories, according to BuzzFeed.

The tech giant follows in the footsteps of companies like Google, Facebook, and Cisco, which earlier this month were legally banned from posing the question to potential employees in California, thanks to a new law that took effect on Jan. 1. Though the law technically applies only to those who work in the Golden State, most have proactively applied the law to all of their U.S. hires. Massachusetts, Oregon, Philadelphia, New York City, and San Francisco have passed similar laws over the past couple of years—though Amazon’s home state of Washington has yet to do so.

Also this week, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order banning state agencies—though not private companies—from asking the controversial question. (The rule takes effect on Feb. 1). New York, Delaware, New Orleans, Pittsburg, and Albany already have similar laws in effect.

While such laws technically apply to a specific jurisdiction, they may have a broader effect. Rather than creating a different set of policies for various cities and states, some companies simply use the strictest set of employment laws as the benchmark for the entire company’s human resources policies. This may explain why major employers like Amazon, which has half a million workers across the country, are opting to embrace a blanket rule.

Many of the policy changes are being positioned as efforts to fight the pay gap that plagues women and people of color. In Gov. Murphy’s statement accompanying the executive order, he called the policy, “the first meaningful step towards gender equity and fighting the gender pay gap.”

In 2016, women made about 80 cents on a man’s dollar, a number that has remained mostly stagnant. The gap is wider for women of color and has been growing for Millennial women. One of the reasons for this, says Andrea Johnson, senior counsel for state policy at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), is the salary history question, which “forces women to carry pay discrimination with them from job to job.”

Johnson calls the efforts to ban the question “exciting,” but notes that such laws are just one piece of the puzzle. Her organization is currently focused on pushing for pay transparency laws, which have already gone into effect in Iceland and the U.K. An Obama-era effort to collect salary information via EEO-1 forms—which must be filled out by any company with 100 or more—has been rolled back under the current administration. The NWLC is one of the dozens of civil rights groups challenging that decision.

Without the support of the federal government, companies’ embrace of policies that advance fair pay—such as Amazon’s move to ban the salary history question and Citigroup’s recent decision to share pay data—are especially important and powerful. Says Johnson: “It’s harder to de-bias minds and easier to de-bias processes.”

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Startups Race to Create Cancer Screens from DNA

Silicon Valley is out for blood—and not just the rejuvenating blood of the young. Biomedical engineers are enthralled by the promise of liquid biopsies, noninvasive tests that detect and classify cancers by identifying the tiny bits of DNA that tumors shed into the bloodstream. Studies at leading cancer centers have already shown the technology’s effectiveness in personalizing treatments after diagnosis. Now startups are selling VCs a vision of cheap, surgery-free cancer screening even before symptoms appear.

Andreessen Horowitz, Google Ventures, Verily, and others have invested $77 million in Freenome, which uses machine learning to pinpoint immune-system responses that may indicate the presence of cancer. Freenome’s most prominent rival, Grail—which plans to harness next­-generation gene sequencing to directly measure cancerous genomic alterations in the blood—raised $1.2 billion last year from ARCH Venture Partners. Both companies are racing to make the first DNA-detecting blood test to reveal disease in its earliest stages. It’s the holy—well, you know—of cancer care.

If this scientific sprint is giving you Theranos flashbacks, it should. Critics believe that even with the aid of low-cost genetic sequencing and high-powered algorithms, liquid biopsy detection is still years away from being patient-ready. The startups have shared scant data so far. (Grail has begun enrolling 130,000 patients in two huge trials, but it won’t have results for a few years.) Having secured massive infusions of funding, it’s not money holding these blood unicorns back, it’s basic biology.


This article appears in the February issue. Subscribe now.

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U.S. enterprise telecoms firm Avaya trades again after bankruptcy

(Reuters) – Avaya Holdings Corp (AVYA.N) shares started trading on Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange, the first time the enterprise telecommunications provider has been public in more than a decade.

Shares ended down 0.9 percent at $20.80.

Avaya spent the past year sorting its financials in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy process before listing its shares publicly this week. It was acquired in a leveraged buyout in 2007 for $8.2 billion by Silver Lake Partners LP and TPG Capital LP.

When Avaya was under the strain of its former debt pile, “it was like driving a car with the parking break on,” Chief Executive Jim Chirico said.

One new challenge for Avaya, which now has a market capitalization of about $2.2 billion, as well as $2.9 billion in debt, will be attracting a new set of shareholders after being private for so long. It converted its debt to equity in order to list its shares.

“With the debt converting to equity, I would imagine we would transition over the next few months to new value equity shareholders,” Chirico said in an interview.

Chirico, a longtime Avaya executive who was named CEO last October, brought in a new management team, formed a dedicated cloud software unit and increased spending on research and development. The company hired Mercer Rowe, a former IBM executive, as well as a new chief financial officer, Patrick O‘Malley, from Seagate Technology Plc (STX.O) in recent months.

“We are going to have an execution focus that we haven’t had at the company before,” Chirico said.

The Silicon Valley-based company, which was spun off from Lucent Technologies Inc in 2000, is now in better financial health and said it had more than $300 million in annual cash flow.

“What a lot of people don’t know is that we are a very profitable company,” Chirico said. “The competitors took their best shot while we were in Chapter 11, but we added customers and we’re stronger now that we’ve ever been.”

Chirico added that “our eyes are wide open” to do acquisitions as well.

Before Avaya entered its restructuring process, it explored a sale of its unit providing software to call centers for about $4 billion. When asked about whether the company would ever consider a sale of that unit again, Chirico said “it’s all about shareholder value” but added that the company is closely linked to its other main business line that provides telephone and cloud services to companies.

Reporting by Liana B. Baker; Editing by Susan Thomas

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