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With diversity in tech starting to boom, why is equal pay still not a thing?

Hack Reactor

Two strong women working together

By Wendy Gittleson for Hack Reactor

As the nation’s men went off to war during World War II, women were called upon to enter the workforce to keep the economy going and to build the weapons being used to fight the Nazis and the Japanese.

After the war, men came home from the front and women went back to their roles as housewives. Everything seemed to center around the mythological “nuclear family,” where Mom ran the household and Dad earned the money. 

Except... that’s not the entire picture. Not all men made it home, and many women found they enjoyed working outside the home or that the extra paycheck was a big help. Businesses found that they could save a lot of money by paying women less than they had paid men. For the most part, women were relegated to administrative jobs while men did the “real work,” and made the real money. 

In the decades after World War II, computers became workplace staples, and in those early years of the tech revolution, the industry was stacked with women coders and women data scientists, but they were paid about the same as their sisters in typing and stenography pools. 

Clearly, the world has changed. Computers are now so commonplace they are gender neutral, in that nearly everyone has at least rudimentary operating skills. For those with more advanced skills, however, the tech industry is anything but gender neutral. 

What is the gender wage gap?

The average woman makes just $.82 for every dollar that a man makes. The wage gap is even wider for women of color. Black women make just $.62 for every dollar a man makes and Latinx women make just $.54.

The tech world, once the domain of women like Dorothy Vaughn, Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson, without whom Americans might never have reached the moon, is slightly better. On average, male coders and data scientists make about 11.5 percent more than women in the same jobs. A survey by Hired.com found that 63 percent of the time, men in the tech industry were offered higher salaries than women.

Surprisingly, the more education a computer scientist has, the greater the wage gap. The US National Science Report of Earned Doctorates (as written in Nature) found that for PhDs “in mathematics and computer sciences, men reported an expected median salary of $125,000; for women, that figure was $101,500.”

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook and author of Lean In, is unequivocal about the issue. “If you fix the pay gap, you would lift three million women out of poverty in the US and you would cut the child poverty rate in half,” she says. When you take into account differences in hours spent at work, experience and occupation, she argues there is still 38 per cent of the pay gap you can’t explain. “It is bias... it is gender,” she says. “There’s no other explanation.”

Source: Irish Times

The gender wage gap isn’t the only equity problem in tech

Regardless of gender, computer science is a lucrative field. Coders and data scientists can easily earn six figures. Unfortunately, women are losing out on well-paid computer science careers because women have effectively been sidelined. According to the National Science Board report of Science and Engineering Indicators, women account for a little over half the college-educated workforce but only about 27 percent of computer science professionals are women.

Why are women paid less in tech fields?

There is plenty of blame to go around for why women are paid less in the tech fields. Not only are women typically offered less money than their male counterparts, but once they get a job, they have to overcome a number of hurdles to advancement.

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said of her struggles, “I’ve had my abilities and commitment to my job questioned. I’ve been left out of key industry events and social gatherings. I’ve had meetings with external leaders where they primarily addressed the more junior male colleagues. I’ve had my comments frequently interrupted and my ideas ignored until they were rephrased by men. No matter how often this all happened, it still hurt."

There is also a confidence gap, which is somewhat universal throughout all disciplines. Men are more likely to negotiate higher salaries. According to Hired.com, “Whether it's a culprit for, or a byproduct of the Expectation Gap, women find negotiating salary significantly more stressful than men. In fact, 72% of women consider negotiating a higher salary stressful, compared to 63% of men. For women, negotiating a higher salary is more stressful than getting a root canal, planning a wedding, or public speaking.

A potentially related data point shows that, when asked how stressful it is to look for a new job, there is a massive difference between men and women, with 41% of women stating that looking for a new job is ‘Very Stressful’, compared to just 28% of men who said the same.”

Conventional wisdom says that women are held back because we are still considered family caregivers, but a report by Harvard Business Review says it’s not that simple. 

We also found incongruities within the work/family rhetoric itself. Take the way this man summed up the problem: “Women are going to have kids and not want to work, or they are going to have kids and might want to work but won’t want to travel every week and live the lifestyle that consulting requires, of 60- or 70-hour weeks.” Resolute in his conviction that women’s personal preferences were the obstacle to their success, he was unable to account for such anomalies as childless women, whose promotion record was no better than that of mothers. In his calculation all women were mothers, a conflation that was common in our interviews. Childless women figured nowhere in people’s remarks, perhaps because they contradict the work/family narrative.

For those women who do have children, the homelife hasn’t changed much since the days of Leave it to Beaver or the Brady Bunch. 

That women should take on the bulk of domestic responsibilities is still a widespread belief. Married American mothers spend almost twice as much time on housework and child care than do married fathers. Although American mothers—including those with young children—are far more likely to be working now than in past decades, they spend more time on child care today than did moms in the 1960s.

Source: The Atlantic

No wonder women are more likely to suffer from workplace burnout.

Sometimes, attempts at addressing the problem can make it worse. According to The Next Web, Google recently reported it found a pay discrepancy which would actually have resulted in male engineers being paid less in 2019. Rather than it being a difference in salary, the discrepancy resulted in a larger percentage of discretionary funds being allocated to female engineers. As a result, they corrected this mistake ahead of time by increasing the expected wages of thousands of male Googlers.

How can the gender pay gap be fixed?

There are a number of steps that can be taken to fix the pay gap. Girls can be taught from a young age how to negotiate and that it’s okay to stand up for themselves. Companies can offer more remote work, making the work/life balance a little less daunting. 

Knowledge is power. There are two laws that protect women from pay discrepancy and one is almost 60 years old. In 1963, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act, making it illegal for a company to pay a woman less money than a man in a similar position and with similar skills. One problem was, though, that women had no way of knowing that they were being underpaid and if they complained, they could have put their jobs in jeopardy. 

In 2009, Congress addressed that problem with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which made it easier to sue in cases of discrimination. 

Data scientists might be the most powerful weapon in destroying the pay gap. For many companies, HR and payroll data go through separate systems. A simple tactic would be to combine both metrics into one, giving data scientists a much clearer picture. 

The most important change, though, is to rewrite company culture and data science bootcamp and coding bootcamp alumni can help. Companies should analyze the algorithms that might be inadvertently causing a lack of diversity. 

If companies recruit and promote based on their current culture, nothing will ever change. Instead, they can use machine learning to figure out where companies’ implicit biases and other factors affecting pay gaps might lie. 

Galvanize, Hack Reactor’s parent company,  is making a concerted effort to increase diversity in tech, including hosting a support group for women in the field and offering scholarships to support those in underrepresented communities