Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat, is giving investors the Donald Trump of initial public offerings. The company is banking on its fame to drown out criticism of its intent to deprive shareholders of voting power. Its main product enables off-the-cuff expressions of vulgarity. And observers have reason to believe Snap’s leaders treat women like they’re less valuable than men.
The company made its initial filing last week, revealing that its nine-person board of directors has only one woman: Joanna Coles, chief content officer of Hearst Magazines and former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire. Fortune reports that, of the five directors who are being paid for their roles, Coles made the least money in 2016 by an entire decimal place.
Snap told Fortune, somewhat enigmatically, that the filing doesn’t reflect Coles’ latest payment, which she received last month. But we do know that last year, Coles made a total of $110,866 from Snap, including $35,000 as a retainer. The next lowest-paid members of the board, G100 Companies CEO Scott Miller and Intel Security Senior Vice President Christopher Young, each got paid about 10 times more than Coles: $1.1 million for their work in 2016. Coles spent the entire year on the board; the other two started in October.
The highest-paid director is A.G. Lafley, a former chairman of P&G, who didn’t come on board until July but still made more than $2.6 million that year. His annual retainer is $200,000, more than five-and-a-half times Coles’. The directors who don’t get paid for their board roles include CEO Evan Spiegel and CTO Bobby Murphy, who get paid by Snap for their full-time jobs, and two director-investors who already own significant chunks of Snap stock through their companies.
The main difference between Coles’ pay and her peers is her stock allotment. She only got 7,488 shares in 2016, while Miller and Young each got 65,106 shares divided over four years, and Lafley got 162,762 shares that will vest over the same period of time. Stanley Meresman, a director who didn’t get paid in 2016, got Lafley’s same deal in 2015, meaning his nearly 41,000 shares that vested in 2016 still outdo Coles’ combined pay by far. Coles got 4,882 shares in 2015, the year she joined the board.
It’s not unusual for women and people of color to be paid less on corporate boards. A recent study of 1,800 firms found that directors of color earn an average of $5,000 less than their white peers, and female directors make an average of $6,670 less than their male peers. The average board salary in the sample was $196,000, meaning the pay gaps were around 2.5 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively.
That’s when women and other members of minority groups end up in the boardroom in the first place. In one recent survey of board members at public companies, 10 percent said the ideal proportion of women on a corporate board is between 20 percent and zero, even though study after study has shown that companies do better when women are on their boards. Women currently occupy just 20 percent of S&P 500 companies’ board seats, meaning Snap is already worse than average. Tech companies have long been criticized for their pro-bro culture—Twitter used to have an all-male board—and Snap’s leaders haven’t done much to counter that image. Spiegel was the author of an infamous set of emails to his Stanford frat, in which he told his friends to “have some girl put your large kappa sigma dick down her throat” and joked “get some, Jefferson” in reference to Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman Thomas Jefferson owned and raped. It’s not surprising to learn that his company only has one woman on its board and that it pays her like an intern compared with the rest of the directors.
This is all the more galling because Coles has made a career of advancing women’s empowerment through her magazine work. She is, by all accounts, an uncompromising badass and a brilliant businesswoman. To know that one of the most visible and successful women in media is still subject to a chasm of the pay gap erodes a bit of hope that women might overcome pay inequity by their talent, hard work, and gumption. When Snap goes public this spring, the gender pay gap on Snap’s board will multiply, as Coles’ deficit in stock means she’ll make far less money from the IPO.
Coles’ pay shaft and the fact that she’s the sole woman on the board indicate that Snap’s leaders chose her, in all likelihood, as a token presence. When the only woman in the room is a wildly underpaid director from the world of women’s media, the people holding the purse strings probably think women on boards are good for guidance about women, and little else.
Update, Feb. 9, 2017: Snap Inc. amended the 2017 compensation filing for Coles on Thursday. A previously undisclosed four-year contract, signed in Jan., brings her total to the level of Miller and Young.