As reported in several news outlets, when Google conducted its annual study to ensure minorities and women are not underpaid, they found something that surprised everyone: more males than females are, in fact, underpaid for doing similar work in software engineering.

Google responded by doing the right thing: making the adjustments for 10,677 employees to the tune of $9.7 million, although reports aren't conclusive about how much of the funds went to male employees.

Google has been in hot water for a while now, with scores of women--former employees-- suing the tech giant for pay discrimination. The New York Times reports that the Labor Department is investigating "whether the company systematically underpays women."

The real issue not addressed

While this latest headline will generate its fair share of buzz on social media, the real issue is not about women or men getting similar salaries for similar work; it's about equity and the systemic barriers in the way of women being awarded the same pay at the onset of their employment.

The HR term for this is called "job leveling," an analytical process put in place to determine the relative value of jobs in an organization. It provides a foundation for compensation and other incentives.

This is a point to which Lauren Barbato, Google's own lead analyst for pay equity, people analytics, alluded in a blog post: "Because leveling, performance ratings and promotion impact pay, this year we are undertaking a comprehensive review of these processes to make sure the outcomes are fair and equitable for all employees,"

In plain English, job leveling ensures that employees are equitably assigned to the appropriate pay grade for their qualifications, so that all workers with the same years of experience for a similar job, are hired at the same level.

The issue so many organizations face is not objectively and accurately assigning value to job positions by defining and evaluating the knowledge and skills necessary to perform the job. In turn, poor job leveling leads to pay dissatisfaction and, worse, wasted payroll dollars on your bottom line.

Take the case of Kelly Ellis, a former Google engineer and one of the plaintiffs in the gender-pay suit against the company. As reported, Ellis, an engineer with four years experience out of college, was hired by Google in 2010 as a "Level 3" employee--a category assigned to recent college graduates. A few weeks later, a male engineer on her team was hired at "Level 4" with the same years of experience straight out of college. While he received a higher salary and "had more opportunities for bonuses, raises and stock compensation," Ellis lost out. 

Personally, I have faith that Google, due in part to its high transparency practices, will model the way for other Silicon Valley tech companies to ensure that women are assigned to the appropriate pay grade in the first place. Now we'll wait and see if they'll deliver on their word to "make sure the outcomes are fair and equitable for all employees."