You’ve probably heard that there’s a gender pay gap: In the U.S., women of all races earn on average 82 cents for every $1 earned by men of all races, according to the most recent Census Bureau data.
Women in high-paying industries like tech are not immune to this unreasonable norm.
Equal Pay Day is March 15, and the date represents how far into the year women would need to work in order to earn what men did the previous year (that date is even later in the year for women of color). Here’s how the gender wage gap affects the tech world, plus key facts that you should know about the persistent issue.
The wage gap is larger for marginalized populations
It’s important to point out that the wage gap disproportionately affects most women of color: Black women get paid on average 61 cents for every dollar that their white male counterparts are paid, Native American women make 60 cents for each dollar, and Hispanic or Latina women make 54 cents for every dollar.
We also know that there’s a pay disparity for LGBTQ+ workers, although there’s very little data available to shed light on what trans and nonbinary people earn compared to cisgender counterparts. A 2022 survey of 6,800 people from the Human Rights Campaign found that trans men and nonbinary or gender-nonconforming people earn 70 cents for every $1 the typical worker earns, and trans women earn 60 cents to the dollar.
The gender pay gap exists across industries
One common explanation for the pay gap is something called “occupational segregation,” which is the idea that certain jobs are dominated by a demographic group, explains Nicole Smith, a research professor and chief economist at the Georgetown University Center in Education and the Workforce. Male-dominated fields — like tech, for example — tend to pay better than ones where women make up the majority, regardless of the level of skill or experience required for the roles.
As more women enter higher-paying professions, you’d think that it’d help narrow the pay gap. “Careers in science and STEM pay well for women — but despite this fact, the gender wage gap still exists,” Smith says.
In tech, specifically, men were offered higher salaries than women for the same job title at the same company 59% of the time, according to a 2021 survey from Hired. On average, women were offered salaries 2.5% less than the ones that men were given for the same roles, the survey found.
The pandemic widened the gap
Women suffered more job loss during the pandemic than men, with more than 5 million women losing jobs since February 2020. “This reduction in labor force participation rate for women is not only as a result of women's desire to remove themselves from the risk of the pandemic, it's just the way the household is structured,” Smith says. Women often assume the “invisible labor” that comes with taking care of a household, and the pandemic only exacerbated this phenomenon.
Some more hopeful news, however: Of the women who plan on eventually returning to the workforce, 8 in 10 say that they want to change careers and pursue STEM, according to a 2021 survey from MetLife.
It could take more than 250 years for the pay gap to close
“Ever since women entered the workforce in significant numbers post World War II, there was a difference in the earnings and the wages of women compared to men,” Smith says. And the pay gap doesn’t seem to be going anywhere: Research from 2021 predicts that it’ll take 268 years to close the economic gender gap, according to the World Economic Forum.
10 steps (at every level) that would help close the pay gap
Closing the pay gap will take more than just recognizing Equal Pay Day or encouraging women to "ask for more" when negotiating their salaries.
"A lot of times, the advice women get is, 'You need to do a better job of negotiating, be more assertive, be more confident, don’t sell yourself short,'" says Catherine Ashcraft, senior research scientist with The National Center for Women & Information Technology. “Everyone could obviously benefit from learning negotiation skills, but that is never going to solve this problem.”
What individuals can do:
- Be informed about what someone with your job title and experience level makes where you live, Smith says. “You need to know what your worth is,” she says. You can use sites that cull salary data (like Glassdoor, Levels, and Scorecard) to glean this information.
- In addition to having a mentor who you can turn to for questions about your career, it’s also helpful to have a “sponsor,” or someone who works within your organization and can take a more active role in your development, Ashcraft says. “Sponsors go a step further than mentors: They make sure that your work gets seen in the right places, at the right time, by the right people,” she says. “They’re advocating for you in the larger organization.” As Harvard Business Review puts it, sponsorship is like “phase two of mentorship.”
- Salary transparency, or talking about how much money you make, is key to getting rid of the gap, because keeping that information secret only reinforces discrimination. (Good to know: Employees have the legal right to discuss information about salaries and wages. Policies that ban employees from talking about pay are unlawful under the National Labor Relations Act.)
- Often in workplaces there are biases in task assignment, Ashcraft says. “It’s something managers don't think about very often; they kind of just give tasks away to whomever speaks the loudest or asks for the task,” she says. As a result, women often get the short end of the stick. “Having managers consciously examine who they're giving the task to and looking for patterns and those kinds of biases is huge,” she says.
What companies can do:
- There’s a phenomenon economists refer to as the “motherhood penalty,” which basically means that women are often at a disadvantage when it comes to wages and promotions after having a child. But equitable parental leave policies (for birthing and non-birthing parents) could help fix this. In fact, research shows that when both parents in a two-parent household are able to stay home following the birth of a child, it not only increases a mother’s pay in the short-term, but also bolster’s the entire household’s financial well-being. "This idea that someone is at home taking care of your children, while the other parent is working and providing for everyone is just a giant lie," says Danny Roberts, Senior Technical Recruiter at Codecademy. "The burden often falls on women still because of our cultural expectations."
- In terms of hiring practices, “it’s so important for companies to establish equitable compensation bands that are competency-based,” Danny says. In other words, the salary range for a particular position is determined by a person’s ability to demonstrate mastery and successful outcomes with tangible results and data, he says. Salary bands — clearly defined pay ranges that are determined by data — help ensure salary equity across the board, he says.
- Companies also need to take a close look at their raise structures and approval process. Research shows that even though women ask for raises just as often as men, “women are significantly less likely to get a higher offer or to get a raise,” Ashcraft says. “They're told no at a significantly more frequent rate than men are even when they ask.”
What society can do:
- Raising the minimum wage is part of closing the gender wage gap, because women make up the majority of workers who would benefit from the increase.
- The U.S. is the only wealthy nation in the world without federally mandated paid family leave for new parents. For perspective, only 23% of American workers get paid family leave from their employers. Policies around paid family leave would allow more parents to stay in the workforce after their child is born. Other countries have shown that this is possible: In Finland, for example, all parents get 7 months of paid family leave each, regardless of their gender identity.
- There are lots of great organizations that are committed to workplace equity and pay parity. To get involved, check out the American Association of University Women, the National Center for Women and Information Technology, or Equal Pay Today.
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