According to the American Association of University Women, women are losing $500 billion each year because of the gender pay gap. Pexels

National Equal Pay Day, which symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year, falls on April 2 this year and marks a 56-year effort across the nation to have employers address the gender pay gap and provide equal pay for equal work.

That effort is now, closer than ever, to reality as the U.S. House of Representatives, in a heartening move this week, passed the bipartisan Paycheck Fairness Act, authored by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and co-sponsored by newly elected Texas Congressman Colin Allred.

The act, among other things, would require employers to prove that pay disparities exist for legitimate job-related reasons, prohibit employers from relying on salary history in determining future pay, provide assistance to all businesses to help them with their equal pay practices and recognize excellence in pay practices by businesses. It would also get rid of rules imposed by employers that prohibit workers from talking about their salary, so women are permitted to ask how much their coworkers are making and find out if they are underpaid.

This legislation is a leap forward in closing the persistent and woeful gender pay.

Statistics show that although more women, nationally, are receiving undergraduate and graduate degrees compared to men, and are equally qualified for the work as their male counterparts, they continue to receive about 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, and women of color earn even less (e.g. Black women earn 63 cents for every dollar and Hispanic women earn just 54 cents for every dollar). At this rate, without any affirmative or proactive changes, it will take another 51 years for women to catch up to men's wages.

In Texas, the outlook around women's pay and the gender gap is grim.

According to the Texas Women's Foundation, in Dallas County, women made almost 93 percent of what men earned, compared to just about 70 percent in Collin County and a little more than 76 percent in Denton County.

According to the American Association of University Women, women are losing $500 billion each year because of the gender pay gap. U.S. corporations suffering those kind of financial losses would send shockwaves through our economic system.

If women made the same pay as men, they would not only be able to better care for their families, but put aside more money in their retirement or pension funds, pay off college loans and mortgages, and enjoy better healthcare and a healthier lifestyle. Research by the Texas Women's Foundation has shown that if working women in Texas were paid the same wages comparable to men, the poverty rate would be reduced by 51 percent.

Companies should not just support the Paycheck Fairness Act, but also become assertive about equal pay and gender diversity, and treat them as an integral part of their business strategy. In order for businesses to truly benefit from the myriad of backgrounds and experiences in our global economy, we must ensure a level-playing field for women and other underrepresented employees. Then and only then will our nation's workplaces and businesses truly thrive. Mr. President and senators — let us pass the Paycheck Fairness Act now.

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Mandy Price is the CEO and co-founder of Dallas-based Kanarys Inc., a web platform that incorporates data and AI to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.

Just making sure your workplace is diverse isn't enough to solve the problem. Inclusion should be just as important of a goal, says this expert. Getty Images

Data-driven inclusion platform founder says ensuring your workplace is diverse just isn't enough

Guest column

Business leaders have long recognized that a diverse and inclusive workforce results in greater employee engagement, innovation, financial returns and market share. Although the "business case" for diversity has long been proven over the years, and "diversity" has become a buzzword adopted by corporate America, few companies — big or small, new or old — have been able to cultivate real inclusion, acceptance and collaboration in the workplace.

According to a 2018 Atlassian study, State of Diversity and Inclusion in U.S. Tech, less than 30 percent of underrepresented employees feel a sense of belonging in their workplace. By and large, most diversity and inclusion initiatives focus primarily on recruitment and increasing the representation of various demographics in the workforce, with little attention given to inclusion — although research has shown that increases to diversity alone do not improve inclusion.

One reason companies have focused on diversity, as opposed to inclusion, is because it is easy to measure diversity — it is simply a matter of headcount. Traditionally, trying to quantify feelings of inclusion was difficult for organizations to measure. However, it is important to incorporate quantifiable and data-driven strategies to measure inclusion, in order to drive the necessary cultural and structural changes needed in the workplace.

What many companies struggle with, it turns out, is not solving problems, but figuring out what the problems actually are—especially when it comes to creating inclusive workplaces. At Kanarys, we have constructed a unique and robust framework for measuring inclusion, to help companies promote a sense of belonging among their employees in the workplace. Our data-driven approach and methodology relies on artificial intelligence and responsive, anonymous, quantitative surveys, to provide actionable insights in order to promote an environment where all employees feel included and empowered.

Understanding employees' daily lived experiences in the workplace is key and fundamental to understanding an organization's' inclusiveness. However, fear of retaliation and retribution prevents most employees from holding back true and authentic feedback. Benchmarking key aspects of an organization's culture—and understanding the employee experience—is important to understand in order to promote lasting inclusion.

Diversity without inclusion inevitably results in missed opportunities with diverse talent because they no longer feel empowered to contribute and lead. However, if you have both diversity and inclusion, retention and engagement for all employees increases–resulting in a potent mix of innovation, collaboration and success.

Instead of asking "how can we acquire more diverse employees?" we should be asking, "what is it about our systems and culture that prevents us from retaining diverse talent?" Employers must therefore recognize that hiring a few "diverse" employees alone is not enough, and that inclusive cultures don't just happen. They are intentional.

I invite businesses to re-focus their efforts on true diversity, equity, and inclusion and help create workplaces where their employees have a true sense of belonging.

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Mandy Price is the CEO and co-founder of Dallas-based Kanarys Inc., a web platform that incorporates data and AI to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.

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New Houston venture studio emerges to target early-stage hardtech, energy transition startups

funding the future

The way Doug Lee looks at it, there are two areas within the energy transition attracting capital. With his new venture studio, he hopes to target an often overlooked area that's critical for driving forward net-zero goals.

Lee describes investment activity taking place in the digital and software world — early stage technology that's looking to make the industry smarter. But, on the other end of the spectrum, investment activity can be found on massive infrastructure projects.

While both areas need funding, Lee has started his new venture studio, Flathead Forge, to target early-stage hardtech technologies.

“We are really getting at the early stage companies that are trying to develop technologies at the intersection of legacy industries that we believe can become more sustainable and the energy transition — where we are going. It’s not an ‘if’ or ‘or’ — we believe these things intersect,” he tells EnergyCapital.

Specifically, Lee's expertise is within the water and industrial gas space. For around 15 years, he's made investments in this area, which he describes as crucial to the energy transition.

“Almost every energy transition technology that you can point to has some critical dependency on water or gas,” he says. “We believe that if we don’t solve for those things, the other projects won’t survive.”

Lee, and his brother, Dave, are evolving their family office to adopt a venture studio model. They also sold off Azoto Energy, a Canadian oilfield nitrogen cryogenic services business, in December.

“We ourselves are going through a transition like our energy is going through a transition,” he says. “We are transitioning into a single family office into a venture studio. By doing so, we want to focus all of our access and resources into this focus.”

At this point, Flathead Forge has seven portfolio companies and around 15 corporations they are working with to identify their needs and potential opportunities. Lee says he's gearing up to secure a $100 million fund.

Flathead also has 40 advisers and mentors, which Lee calls sherpas — a nod to the Flathead Valley region in Montana, which inspired the firm's name.

“We’re going to help you carry up, we’re going to tie ourselves to the same rope as you, and if you fall off the mountain, we’re falling off with you,” Lee says of his hands-on approach, which he says sets Flathead apart from other studios.

Another thing that's differentiating Flathead Forge from its competition — it's dedication to giving back.

“We’ve set aside a quarter of our carried interest for scholarships and grants,” Lee says.

The funds will go to scholarships for future engineers interested in the energy transition, as well as grants for researchers studying high-potential technologies.

“We’re putting our own money where our mouth is,” Lee says of his thesis for Flathead Forge.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston-based lunar mission's rocky landing and what it means for America's return to the moon

houston, we have a problem

A private U.S. lunar lander tipped over at touchdown and ended up on its side near the moon’s south pole, hampering communications, company officials said Friday.

Intuitive Machines initially believed its six-footed lander, Odysseus, was upright after Thursday's touchdown. But CEO Steve Altemus said Friday the craft “caught a foot in the surface," falling onto its side and, quite possibly, leaning against a rock. He said it was coming in too fast and may have snapped a leg.

“So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we’re tipped over," he told reporters.

But some antennas were pointed toward the surface, limiting flight controllers' ability to get data down, Altemus said. The antennas were stationed high on the 14-foot (4.3-meter) lander to facilitate communications at the hilly, cratered and shadowed south polar region.

Odysseus — the first U.S. lander in more than 50 years — is thought to be within a few miles (kilometers) of its intended landing site near the Malapert A crater, less than 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the south pole. NASA, the main customer, wanted to get as close as possible to the pole to scout out the area before astronauts show up later this decade.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to pinpoint the lander's location, as it flies overhead this weekend.

With Thursday’s touchdown, Intuitive Machines became the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries. Japan was the latest country to score a landing, but its lander also ended up on its side last month.

Odysseus' mission was sponsored in large part by NASA, whose experiments were on board. NASA paid $118 million for the delivery under a program meant to jump-start the lunar economy.

One of the NASA experiments was pressed into service when the lander's navigation system did not kick in. Intuitive Machines caught the problem in advance when it tried to use its lasers to improve the lander's orbit. Otherwise, flight controllers would not have discovered the failure until it was too late, just five minutes before touchdown.

“Serendipity is absolutely the right word,” mission director Tim Crain said.

It turns out that a switch was not flipped before flight, preventing the system's activation in space.

Launched last week from Florida, Odysseus took an extra lap around the moon Thursday to allow time for the last-minute switch to NASA's laser system, which saved the day, officials noted.

Another experiment, a cube with four cameras, was supposed to pop off 30 seconds before touchdown to capture pictures of Odysseus’ landing. But Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s EagleCam was deliberately powered off during the final descent because of the navigation switch and stayed attached to the lander.

Embry-Riddle's Troy Henderson said his team will try to release EagleCam in the coming days, so it can photograph the lander from roughly 26 feet (8 meters) away.

"Getting that final picture of the lander on the surface is still an incredibly important task for us,” Henderson told The Associated Press.

Intuitive Machines anticipates just another week of operations on the moon for the solar-powered lander — nine or 10 days at most — before lunar nightfall hits.

The company was the second business to aim for the moon under NASA's commercial lunar services program. Last month, Pittsburgh's Astrobotic Technology gave it a shot, but a fuel leak on the lander cut the mission short and the craft ended up crashing back to Earth.

Until Thursday, the U.S. had not landed on the moon since Apollo 17's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt closed out NASA's famed moon-landing program in December 1972. NASA's new effort to return astronauts to the moon is named Artemis after Apollo's mythological twin sister. The first Artemis crew landing is planned for 2026 at the earliest.

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things." Read more.

Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. Photo courtesy of Sage

A Houston geothermal startup has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. The proceeds aim to fund its first commercial geopressured geothermal system facility, which will be built in Texas in Q4 of 2024. According to the company, the facility will be the first of its kind.

“The first close of our Series A funding and our commercial facility are significant milestones in our mission to make geopressured geothermal system technologies a reality,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems, says. Read more.

Clemmie Martin, chief of staff at The Cannon

With seven locations across the Houston area, The Cannon's digital technology allows its members a streamlined connection. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

After collaborating over the years, The Cannon has acquired a Houston startup's digital platform technology to become a "physical-digital hybrid" community.

Village Insights, a Houston startup, worked with The Cannon to create and launch its digital community platform Cannon Connect. Now, The Cannon has officially acquired the business. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The integration of a world-class onsite member experience and Cannon Connect’s superior virtual resource network creates a seamless, streamlined environment for member organizations,” Clemmie Martin, The Cannon’s newly appointed chief of staff, says in the release. “Cannon Connect and this acquisition have paved new pathways to access and success for all.” Read more.