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Lead with Equity

Syndio is at the forefront of pay equity, a topic near-and-dear to our hearts, so the boys thought they bring CEO Maria Colacurcio on the show to get a read on what's going on and what the future holds when it comes to such issues.

Enjoy another exclusive powered by NEXXT, with the double X.


Maria Colacurcio (0s):

Pay, equity is truly a leadership responsibility on the company.

INTRO (26s):

Hide your kids! Lock the doors! You're listening to HRS most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry, right where it hurts! Complete with breaking news, brash opinion and loads of snark, buckle up boys and girls, it's time for the Chad and Cheese podcast.

Joel (26s):

Let's get ready to podcast! I haven't trademarked that yet. What's up everybody? You are listening to the Chad and Cheese podcast. I am your cohost Joel Cheesman joined as always by my cohost, Chad Sowash

Chad (38s):

Why hello!

Joel (38s):

And today. We are privileged to welcome. I'm not going to butcher this name. I promise Maria Maria Colacurcio is CEO of Syndio. Maria, welcome to the podcast.

Maria Colacurcio (55s):

Thanks for having me. And you nailed it. Got the last name on the first try love it. I really think he should have gone more Italian with it though. Go look, Colacurcio I think that that really, really sold it. Yes.

Joel (1m 5s):

You've already offended a whole group of people and we're not even like a minute into the show way to go Sowash

Chad (1m 11s):

That's what I do. Okay.

Joel (1m 14s):

Maria where, does this podcast find you today?

Maria Colacurcio (1m 16s):

Well, normally I'm working out of Seattle, Washington, but today you find me at my inlaws who are graciously assisting with the kids and we are in Arizona.

Chad (1m 25s):

Oh, nice. So that's awesome because from my research you have six children. What are the ages of those six kids?

Maria Colacurcio (1m 34s):

Yeah. Big buzzer on that one.

Joel (1m 40s):

You do know how it works, right?

Maria Colacurcio (1m 42s):

I do.

Joel (1m 42s):

We can send some literature.

Maria Colacurcio (1m 42s):

I do, We all have choices. Well all have choices, guys. There's two batches of them. There's a first marriage batch and the second marriage batch, the first marriage batch ages range from eight to 13. And there's five of them in that batch. So you do that. And then the caboose she's two. So the inlaws are all day with the husband in the pool and 115 degree weather, while I'm working and it's working out great.

Maria Colacurcio (2m 12s):

So very grateful,

Joel (2m 11s):

Two to 13. Did I get that right to the third day and eight? Your, your, your, your sainthood certificate should be in the mail.

Chad (2m 21s):

So the reason we brought you on the days, we actually did a show a few months ago that talked about Syndio and your series, a funding. And I, and I dove a little bit deeper into what you guys do. And so to Joel, and we had a little bit of discussion around Syndio being the platform, which allows companies to focus on pay equity and transparency. And we talk about this all the time on the show a nd how to rectify a system that is just so damaged.

Chad (2m 54s):

So if you could, if you don't mind, can you tell us your story, the story of Syndio, how you got here? Obviously there was a problem. You saw the problem, but how did you actually get that in your head? Hey, I can fix this?

Joel (3m 8s):

And how'd you come up with the name?

Maria Colacurcio (3m 11s):

Yeah, it's a great story. So I'm not the founder of Syndio. I am the CEO and joined a company that already existed. So that's kind of the first thing that I like to tell people, because it's, it's pretty rare to have a founder come in, have a founder, start a company, and then bring a CEO in, but that's exactly what happened. So Syndio's origin was actually a people analytics company and they had a phenomenal people analytics software product. It was organizational network analysis, and that's where the name came from.

Maria Colacurcio (3m 42s):

So synapses - connections, how do you connect a bunch of people? But what they did early on is they were having some trouble with the long sales cycle. It's a super crowded competitive market. It was a big consulting lift. So when I joined, they had a little side hustle product that the founder had created. He's a PhD. JD had worked at law firms and done thousands of <inaudible> analysis by hand. And they were selling this side product, which was essentially a better way to do ongoing pay equity analysis and eradicating unlawful pay disparities based on gender, race, ethnicity, really anything because the software is agnostic.

Maria Colacurcio (4m 21s):

So whatever data a company has, you can look at comparisons based on that data. So at the time I was at Starbucks and I was part of the communications team that was launching the very first pay parody announcement at the annual meeting, where Howard was handing off to Kevin Johnson as the new CEO.

Chad (4m 37s):

Which we need a big applause for that, by the way, because that we, I mean, we talk about that on the show, they, that that's definitely setting the bar and knowing that you were there during that. I mean, again, I think that just adds to the coolness of the story.

Maria Colacurcio (4m 52s):

It does, and that they were very progressive, specifically around the area of transparency. So a lot of companies had been doing this under the shroud of attorney client privilege and sort of behind locked doors and being one of the first to be open and share results with employees. I mean, we really believe at our heart at Syndio that what is going to solve this problem is number one innovation. So getting it out of the hands of outside consultants and law firms who are perpetuating the pay gap, but number two, adding a sense of accountability and transparency.

Maria Colacurcio (5m 24s):

So being honest with your employees about where you stand and what you're doing to fix those issues and Starbucks was very progressive in terms of transparency and sharing results. And that's how I became very, very familiar with how this is done. Starbucks did it, the old fashioned way. They worked with an external law firm. It took weeks, if not months to hand the data back and forth. If you had to change to a group or a reorg or a layoff, you had to redo all of your analysis. And in the end, a massive report that tells you where to remediate, but you don't understand anything about the policies and practices that are driving those disparities.

Maria Colacurcio (6m 2s):

So in the process of this, I ran across Syndio, along with the lead employment lawyer at Starbucks who had run pay equity for 13 years at Starbucks. He now is at Symbio. So we joined on the same day, when we found the software, we were blown away. We said, this is absolutely going to change the way that companies solve this problem.

Chad (6m 23s):

And it didn't take Starbucks 200 years. Did it?

Maria Colacurcio (6m 26s):

No, it didn't. And it's not taking companies 200 years anymore because we really eliminate the need to do it that old fashioned way. And we save companies time and unnecessarily unnecessary expense. Quite frankly.

Joel (6m 38s):

I don't know if you've seen some of the, some of the headlines in the news, but there's a, a global pandemic that has left 14 million people unemployed. How does that impact pay equity? Because my, my guess would be people care less about it when there are a lot more people unemployed. I just want a job, even if it's less money, like, do these issues go to the back burner in today's current environment, or do you think they still remain a high point in terms of where we should be going?

Maria Colacurcio (7m 8s):

It's such a great question. And I'm so glad you asked it because economic disaster exacerbates differences and it impacts the most vulnerable. So it actually is a huge risk that we're going to set ourselves back 50 years because of this pandemic. And not only that, we're seeing in the news and research and research, we've done ourselves at Syndio. We did a couple of surveys around COVID and single parents, dual parents that are both working. And the lion's share of the work at home is landing on women and minorities and single parents.

Maria Colacurcio (7m 44s):

And so if you look at that, if you look at the hours that women are spending, working, and working on their career, versus men, men are leaning more into work. So our survey showed that men are spending 12 plus hours a day working, whereas women are dialing it back. 14% of women in our survey were actually so overwhelmed they were considering quitting. So we really have to look at this pandemic from the standpoint of, are we going to set women back 50 years if we don't identify the types of things that they're handling at home?

Maria Colacurcio (8m 15s):

And the other part of this is, as companies start looking at policies for going back to the physical workspace, flexibility is awesome. We've been asking for flexibility for a decade because it benefits women. It benefits minorities, but when you look at an optional in the office policy who actually can show up, typically it's people who don't have kids, aren't caring for elderly parents, socio-economically are able to drive a car, not rely on public transportation.

Maria Colacurcio (8m 46s):

So there are all these things playing into that proximity to the boss, in the physical office. And what does that mean? And how does that again, set people back?

Joel (8m 57s):

Interesting. So I want to, I want to springboard off that question and go to another timely one in that July 31st, a lot of people's $600 a week, government check may or may not dry up, or it may be less et cetera. But so I'm curious about the impact on this from that standpoint, if a lot of people stop getting those checks, but more, more importantly, on the show, we talk a lot about universal basic income. And I'm curious about your thoughts on pay equity as it involves people getting, you know, a regular check from the government, does that stifle pay equity, or what impact does that have on it?

Maria Colacurcio (9m 35s):

I don't know that that necessarily stifles or propels pay equity, because when I think about pay equity, we don't have any regulation right now in the United States. So 44 States have laws around pay equity, but they don't do anything. And I talk about this all the time because people will come to our company and say, which States have really great laws versus which States don't well, okay, it's fine. that 44 States have laws prohibiting pay discrimination. There's also discrimination laws, right?

Maria Colacurcio (10m 5s):

So, but the onus is still on the plaintiff to go figure out that they're being paid less because of their gender, race or ethnicity and bring that claim. So until we have some sort of accountability and legislation around companies having to report, or, you know, report their standings report, pay equity, even just at the very minimal level, of level report, mean median report, average female versus male pay average white versus nonwhite pay companies have to take accountability for taking action.

Maria Colacurcio (10m 36s):

And we don't have any legislation around that. So in terms of like a dictated, mandated pay scenario, it doesn't really in my mind connects to pay equity because pay equity is truly a leadership responsibility on the company. The company has got to take responsibility to ensure they're paying their people fairly, regardless of all of these things we've talked about.

Joel (11m 1s):

So what's government's role, if any?

Maria Colacurcio (11m 3s):

I think government's role is to start looking at things like the Kamala Harris proposal, quite frankly. I mean, she said early on in one of her campaigns, why don't we have companies over a hundred employees required to report on how they're doing here? I mean, why wasn't that something that we should be asking them?

Chad (11m 23s):

Yeah, the answer's always enforcement, right? If you have regulations, you have legislation. It, none of it matters if you don't enforce it. And that's obviously just not being enforced, but there is no law and correct me if I'm wrong, around pay transparency, publicly Patriots, apparently which once again, would also spur this forward. Correct?

Maria Colacurcio (11m 48s):

Absolutely, and you see it in the UK. So the UK doesn't have a pay equity law, but they have a reporting around the pay gap. And so again, the pay gap isn't equal work for equal pay. What it is, is average male versus average female salary, if you're looking at gender. And so what that exposes though, is the distribution in a company. So are all your women sort of clustered in the mid level manager ranks while your men are senior vice presidents, it exposes that. And suddenly there's, there's transparency around where there is work to be done.

Chad (12m 22s):

Right? And I think, you know what we're seeing, I mean, like that, like the world economic forum saying, it's going to take 200 years to actually get this right. Most of that is probably because they're old, rich white guys who don't want to get it right. But this is not just an equity issue of the now, for example, these groups have been paid less for years. So there is a humongous back pay issue that could come into play, who knows maybe even class action suits? Companies are already scared of equity because of what it means to the bottom line.

Chad (12m 54s):

They have to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars perspectively. But now if you put transparency on top of that, and then back-pay, it really seems like a hard, tough road. Those to me are the answers correct me if you think I'm wrong, but getting there that's the hardest part because of the system that we have in play. Right? How do we get past this?

Maria Colacurcio (13m 16s):

Yeah. I mean, you're absolutely right. I think the solutions that have been offered to companies have perpetuated the issue. So doing this with a law firm who is quite frankly, incented, I mean, you, the company are a client of the law firm who is now tasked with sharing with you, what's in your best interest to protect yourself against potential lawsuits. And remember data gerrymander differently can produce absolutely different results. So if you want to take your groupings, if you're looking at equal work for equal pay, that's all about people who do similar work and running regressions to see if you can rule out gender or race or ethnicity as a factor, if you desegregate those groups.

Maria Colacurcio (14m 0s):

So they're super tiny and you decide that there aren't female or nonwhite competitors, because those roles are so specific that you just, there's no women that do that job. You can absolutely gerrymander your results. And if you think about the process of somebody doing that for a client, it's in their best interests to perpetuate issues, to make you look.

Chad (14m 24s):

And who can afford the lawyers. Right?

Maria Colacurcio (14m 27s):

Exactly. Exactly. And I think the other piece of this is, and it's really interesting because the black lives matter movement has again brought D & I front and center for many company leaders. And just about everyone at different companies have made a statement, but how do we take those statements beyond just this performative activism? Because D and I, there is massive fatigue around diversity & inclusion. I mean, for the last decade, it's been a huge money suck for companies and CEOs are just, they have fatigue cause they haven't seen results from all this training, from all this talking from all this work.

Maria Colacurcio (15m 6s):

And now we're starting to talk about, okay, but there's an E in D and I, and it's about equity and there's actually actions companies can take to address equity. And that's where we've got to focus because we have to look at how to create lasting change out of this movement and not let it just die into some of these, you know, D&I things that we've already seen are not working.

Chad (15m 29s):

Well they're throwing it, throwing money at training, around trying to help people understand, but they're not throwing money at the equity piece. The equity piece is being able to make up those gaps. $8 billion, I believe spent last year in D & I training that $8 billion could have gone to making people feel they're treated fair and equitable by provider by trying to get them closer to that gap. So, I mean, when you're talking to companies and you hear about this training, it does it not just boggle your mind that they're not putting this to the actual problem or one of the actual problems I may say, in this case to bridging that pay gap?

Maria Colacurcio (16m 14s):

What boggles my mind is when a company who has publicly pledged a commitment to pay equity will show up in our sales cycle and say they don't have budget to address it. Exactly. It's that boggles my mind because here they are publicly making statements about their commitment, but yet they don't want to allocate budget for potential remediation of issues where they actually are not paying people f airly that to me is, is a big problem because we have to hold these companies accountable that are making these lip service pledges that they're not actually doing anything.

Nexxt (16m 59s):

We'll get back. We'll do the interview in a minute. But first we have a question for Andy Katz, COO of Nexxt. So for those companies that are out there today, who are kind of hesitant because they're afraid of texting, what do you have to say to them? Get with the program. People are texting these days. You know, I will say that I'm in a different generation, a different point in my career that I agree I would be hesitant, but there are obviously millions of millions of people that are in that demographic that want to receive them. So it's again, know your audience and be able to deliver a message to your audience that way they want to receive it, right.

Nexxt Promo (17m 34s):

For more information, go to That's next with the double X not the triple x,

Joel (17m 51s):

So we've covered sort of legal hurdles or avoiding landmines from a legal perspective. I'm curious, what is the hierarchy by which a company would use a service like Syndio? Oh, and particularly from a recruiting perspective, because that's a topic that is near and dear to our hearts. How important is pay equality when it comes to recruiting the best and brightest?

Maria Colacurcio (18m 15s):

It's really important. So PayScale does a really nice job of some research that they do on this topic. And what they've found is that employees care more, five and a half times more actually about pay relative to similar peers in their company than they do about market pay. And it has a massive impact on employee engagement and productivity. And if you think about it, it's absolutely true. So you can tell me all day long that I'm paid fairly relative to the tech companies in my backyard.

Maria Colacurcio (18m 46s):

I've got Amazon, I've got Microsoft, I've got Facebook in the Seattle area. But if I find out that the person in the cube next to me, who's doing a similar job is getting paid more for no reason other than gender, I'm gonna walk out and want to burn the place down.

Joel (19m 5s):

Not that we're advocating such activities.

Maria Colacurcio (19m 10s):

That's how I'm going to feel.

Chad (19m 12s):

Yes, yes. So let's push that a little bit further because Facebook actually is now talking about disparity of pay by location. You're doing the exact same work, but now that I'm allowing you to move out of Silicon Valley and let's say for instance, a move to Utah, right? So Salt Lake City, or maybe even Palm Springs, who cares, but now I can justify paying you less because of the cost of living there. Even though you are doing the exact same job, which is de-valuing that person, is that something that we're going to see move and shift dramatically with a lot more of this remote work that would be happening?

Joel (19m 55s):

I can't wait for this one.

Maria Colacurcio (19m 57s):

Yeah. It's so it's, it's funny that you asked this. So we actually did a webinar two weeks ago with two speakers that were really fantastic. One was the former CPO at LinkedIn. One was the director of HR at NerdWallet, and this was the topic. It was all about G eo diff and Facebook's proclamation that they're now going to be paying people differently based on where they move. And the fact of the matter is there are neutral job related factors that go into why companies pay what they pay. And so Facebook was very strong coming out and saying, one of the reasons we pay you, what we pay you is because you're in a high cost of living area s o we're going to dock you.

Maria Colacurcio (20m 33s):

And it's a really interesting move from the perspective of, you know, the myths of a global pandemic. They're also putting a pause on performance reviews and figuring out how to increase, pay for good work that they're doing. And 71% of employers are struggling to figure out how to adjust to remote work. They still care about morale. And so is docking someone's pay because they're moving to a different location, the right move here.

Maria Colacurcio (21m 6s):

Even if location is one of the ways that you figure out how to pay people well.

Chad (21m 9s):

And behind that as well. If you think about it from Zuk's standpoint, he's saving money on Silicon Valley, real estate. If he can downsize some of those spaces, and he's also perspectively saving money because he can pay those individuals who less for doing the exact same work.

Maria Colacurcio (21m 27s):

Yeah, it's really interesting. So when we had our panel of speakers two weeks ago, they were very the perspective on doing this. So docking pay was a very negative perspective. They felt like this was a poor move in terms of morale, engagement and productivity.

Joel (21m 46s):

You guys have raised quite a bit of money. I know the, the round that that Chad I think was talking about on the show is 7.5 million. And then there was another one in 2018, at 5.2 million. I'm curious, what does that money go toward? Do you guys do a significant amount of lobbying, for example,

Maria Colacurcio (22m 3s):

You know, we don't, but we're actually kicking off a government affairs program now. And that was part of the intent of the series A, which we raised just this past April. It's really important that we start to get in front of legislators to say, this is something that we absolutely need to require of companies. They need to be reporting on something, again, lowest minimum bar is just mean median. What is the average pay for some of these comparisons? I think it's really crucial. I think the other thing that we think about when, when we think about where to put these funds to use is our next product and our next product is called opportunity queue.

Maria Colacurcio (22m 42s):

And what that's about is distribution. So leaders want to know what the company's distribution looks like. So gender, racism, ethnicity, but more importantly, how they get there. So we've got to start adding actionable goals, tied to metrics that aren't aspirational or untethered to reality. So for example, you know, how do we establish those goals? If you want a senior vice president suite, that's half women, half men, how do you get there? What are the steps you take to develop your mid level managers?

Maria Colacurcio (23m 14s):

Because I'll bet you, you have that talent in your company already. You're just not developing it.

Joel (23m 21s):

So in line of that, I want to, I want to play, make believe for a little bit, and let's pretend that you are your leader of the, of the free world for a day. What do those parameters look like? I mean, for example, some things that strike me are, you know, if you have the same title, should you be paid the same? If the title and the number of years that you worked as the same, you should be paid the same private versus public companies. How big a company is like, what would that general parameter look like in terms of, of what pay equity looks like from a transparency standpoint?

Maria Colacurcio (23m 53s):

It's a great question. So I want to be clear that I don't think policies and neutral job-related factors that drive pay are wrong. There are some that are, I think, misguided, but for example, having a policy that says, you know, we pay based on tenure, education and skills. For example, the issue comes into play. When number one, you're not transparent about what those policies are and communicating those to employees so that they understand why they're paid, what they're paid. And number two.

Maria Colacurcio (24m 24s):

And I think this is the biggest thing is when your policies and practices don't match up with what you're actually doing. So that's part of what our software does. So the software identifies whether why you pay, what you pay is actually true. So for example, most companies say they're, they're paying for performance and a few actually are, but a lot aren't. So I think it's more of that consistency between why you pay what you pay, and making sure from a data analytics perspective that you're actually doing that.

Maria Colacurcio (24m 58s):

And then communicating that so that your employees have a sense of the why, why am I paid? What I'm paid

Chad (25m 4s):

Question around, being able to actually get there for companies. And again, not taking 200 years of didn't take Starbucks that long, the U S military I was in the military for 20 years. The U S military has a setup very equal from a pay standpoint, you have rank, which could be a band, which most companies have. And then you have a years in service, which is tenure, and you meet on that grid and then, you know what you're getting paid. Why? And it's obviously incredibly transparent too, because obviously, you know, we get paid by taxes.

Chad (25m 36s):

So you can see that why aren't companies moving that way because transparency and fairness does drive morale. You would think that would, that would be a huge market.

Maria Colacurcio (25m 50s):

Yeah, it's interesting. I definitely don't think we're there yet for a variety of reasons. I think even when we talk to our customer companies and they're talking about wanting to be more transparent, they're very wary of getting to the extreme where they're sharing everyone's salaries. And there's a bunch of reasons why there's, you know, the research on what that does to morale there's research on. You know, we have a couple of really interesting anecdotes from leaders at customer companies who have actually asked their team. Do you just want to know what everyone else makes?

Maria Colacurcio (26m 22s):

And typically it's the women, who say no, because they don't want to know that they're underpaid because of gender, which is really interesting in terms of our advice, we always tell women, find a male ally, find a male ally in your company that does similar work to you and ask them to share their salary so that you do have some understanding of the pay bands. So long story short, I think it's a direction that we're not ready for quite frankly, at least the companies that I've seen and have talked to.

Maria Colacurcio (26m 52s):

But I really do believe that the first step to that is that we've got to have visibility to our own pay metrics in our company. So everyone knows what they're paid, but incredibly many employees don't know what grade, band or level they're in. And so for those that do, they don't know where in that band they sit. So what percent in range am I, how am I paid relative to that band? What are the limits to my movement within that band? So that's kind of the first form of transparency that's critical.

Maria Colacurcio (27m 24s):

And the second is, is how can I possibly know whether I'm paid fairly relative to others when I don't know what others get? So they're the ones now with the legislation, as it stands that has to provide competitor evidence, how are they supposed to do that if they don't know who their competitors are? So those are sort of the two buckets of, again, first steps that we have to take to, to get to the point where we can solve this

Chad (27m 52s):

As a sort of a profile of a corporate customer look like for you in terms of, you know, size, particular part of the region, is it tech or otherwise, and, and what, what category is is least represented by your company and what would you would love to have more of those kinds of companies in the Syndio, you know, portfolio?

Maria Colacurcio (28m 15s):

Good question. So our software is best utilized for companies that have 250 employees or more, and that's just due to the type of regressions we run. If your groups get too tiny, if you don't have enough employees, it gets a little bit more difficult to do the statistical analysis. But again, that 200, 250 size employee and up, those are great companies for us. So right now we have a pretty wide mix in professional services, hospitality, tech, insurance, healthcare, it's a pretty broad mix of verticals.

Maria Colacurcio (28m 49s):

I would say the one gap where we really want to see more progress is financial services. So banking, financial services, that industry. Yeah,

Joel (29m 0s):

Shocker, I wasn't expecting that.

Maria Colacurcio (29m 3s):

I know it's so surprising. I wish I could be counterintuitive and say, you know, something else, but that's the one where we'd love to see a little more progress. Awesome.

Chad (29m 12s):

Well, Maria, we really appreciate you coming on the show. Once again, very important for us not to mention our listeners to understand just how big equity is in their organizations. The biggest issue is they don't know how to get there. And as we saw Syndio, we thought that it would be good to talk about this issue first and foremost, but then also about the platform. So if our listeners want to find out more about you and about Syndio, where should they go?

Maria Colacurcio (29m 42s):

Yes. That's where you can go to find out more information on our company and what we're doing, and we'd love to have you. So anytime you have questions, feel free to reach out again. You can also provide my email out to your audience, which is Thank you so much. Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Joel (30m 0s):

Chad, we out.

Chad (30m 0s):

We out.

5 (30m 27s):

Thank you for listen to podcasts with Chad and Cheese. Brilliant! They talk about recruiting. They talk about technology, but most of all, they talk about nothing. Anyhoo, be sure to subscribe today on iTunes, Spotify, Google play, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. We out.


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