By Caitlin Copple Masingill
Sitting at his sticker-adorned Mac laptop in an unassuming navy-blue sweater, Pete Gombert has the effect of an entrepreneur, though perhaps a bit more mature than those in the cast of Silicon Valley.
Pete fell in love with Boise 20 years ago while traveling here for a previous startup, and decided to make it home for his family. Today, he’s a building a workplace certification company called GoodWell that evaluates the gender pay gap, among other metrics. Another local company he co-founded, indieDwell, is easing the affordable housing shortage.
“I have six businesses in my life right now,” says Pete, who’s seen previous companies through three successful exits. “Starting companies is not easy, but it’s just the way my mind works. It drives me crazy sometimes, but my brain is just always thinking of ways to make things better.”
Russ Stoddard, a fellow social entrepreneur and president of Oliver Russell, serves on the advisory board of GoodWell.
“GoodWell’s a great idea,” he said. “Plus, Pete’s an example of a mid-career entrepreneur who’s had a lot of success with tech startups in his career, and I wanted to support his transition into the social enterprise space—we need more people like him in this community.”
Pete is perhaps best known locally for founding Balihoo, located in BoDo, and an experience at that company led him to pursue social entrepreneurship full time. Pete says he’ll never forget the day he learned he was paying female employees differently for the same work as his male employees. Before, he’d been skeptical about the concept of a pay gap, and felt his good intentions and inclination toward a bias-free workplace were enough to ensure no problem existed.
Kallen Maher is a senior engagement manager at Zennify, a software consulting company based in Boise, who worked with Pete for four years at Balihoo. She also volunteered at GoodWell in its earliest days while she was in graduate school.
“Pete’s interest in equity was clear even at Balihoo,” Kallen said. “You could tell Pete was driving for a workplace where all employees felt they were treated fairly and women were given the same opportunities.”
One of the problems with the pay gap is that no uniform standards exist for measuring it, Pete explains. It was something that drove him nuts when he set out to fix the problem at Balihoo.
“It’s pretty hard to fix what you can’t measure, so I built GoodWell in part to give organizations a tool to evaluate and correct a problem that is pervasive in our society.”
While national interest in closing the gender pay gap has increased, Pete says GoodWell has not directly seen an uptick in interest—yet. Recently, the company launched “Mind the Gap” an open-source initiative to confidentially bring together major companies who internally measure their pay gaps as well as leading academics in hopes of comprehensively reviewing the various methods that are being used.
“We need to make sure we are comparing apples to apples,” explains Pete, who also happens to be a certified public accountant. “Making this methodology widely available and akin to the ‘Generally Accepted Accounting Principles’ should remove any lingering reluctance for organizations to ensure equal pay for equal work. There are also macro-level issues such as job segregation, trying to get more women to pursue careers in STEM, and feel confident negotiating a salary. Some of those systemic issues will take 20 years to fix,” he says. “My point is that there is still a lot of basic work that can and should be done today to pay people equally for the same work.”
“There are so many brilliant entrepreneurs here in Boise, and Pete stands out among them,” said Boise Mayor Dave Bieter. “He’s built something with GoodWell that I’m proud the City can a part of. I would encourage other local governments to consider certification as they work to stay competitive as employers and do the right thing by their employees.”
To learn more about GoodWell, visit their webpage at www.goodwellworld.com.