Wired Women: Catching up to the Boys

Girl geeks are closing in on the economic Holy Grail — unless they live in Bill Gates’ neighborhood.

A new report says the average woman in high tech is earning 92 cents for every dollar her male counterpart earns. Better yet, newbie nerds earn the same salaries regardless of gender: workers who have been in the IT marketplace for fewer than five years are earning equal pay.

You got it: equal pay for equal work. Regardless of gender.

This is progress.

But the same study says a Silicon Valley girl geek who’s making 97 cents for every dollar the guys make will watch that proportion plummet to 89 cents if she moves to Seattle.

“If you’re a woman and you’re talking about the gender gap, the Northwest seems to have more of a problem with it than the Deep South, or the Midwest, or the East Coast, or Silicon Valley,” says Shuman Lee, director of Analytics at techies.com, which produced the study. “If you look at the Seattle market in particular, the gap is 89 percent.”

In seeking response from the software giant, its public relations offices had this to say: "Microsoft has decided not to take advantage of this opportunity to respond."

Crunching Numbers

The study was produced in December by techies.com, a career site that requires its 700,000 members to provide extensive information about their education, job histories, and current salaries. Lee culls subsets of those data to examine market trends and working conditions.

The gender gap study included data on 87,075 men and 19,058 women who hold entry-level to executive technology positions in 39 major U.S. job markets. The gender imbalance in the sample reflects the gender imbalance in techies.com database — and in the high-tech market in general.

Lee acknowledges that his sample is not a representative cross-section of all technology workers. His subjects include only those tech workers who have registered at techies.com, who have self-reported their income and job history information, and who are probably looking for a new position.

“Even so,” says Lee, “we have a sample of more than 100,000 workers, which is much larger than your average survey. Twenty percent of those workers are women, and that, too, is a much stronger sample than most studies use.”

Salary parity among new high-tech workers is the study’s most interesting result, Lee says. “There’s no cause and effect in our data,” he cautions, “but we can speculate that people’s attitudes and biases are changing. Those with less experience are probably younger, and are being hired by younger managers whose attitudes may reflect less gender discrimination.”

Progress, but …

This by no means suggests that gender discrimination is not alive and well in the U.S. work force — high-tech and otherwise.

For starters, girl geeks in Seattle may not be as close to parity as women in other parts of the country, but they’re still a sight better off than their sisters in other lines of work. On average, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, women earn 75 cents for every dollar their male co-workers earn.

That means the average woman works an extra 17 weeks to catch up to the wages of the average guy — the average guy, that is, who happens to be doing the same job, with the same level of training and skill.

It’s even worse for women of color. African-American women earn 64 cents for every dollar earned by white men; they work nearly 18 months to earn the same wages a white man earns in a year. And Hispanic women work 22 months to earn the pay a white man earns in 12, according to the CEA.

And while it’s true that high-tech women get a better deal, it’s no small feat to finagle their way into the field in the first place. Today, women hold 29 percent of high-tech jobs, and only 10 percent of the highest-paying positions such as electrical engineering.

It’s Always Something …

I know, I know: I’m always kvetching about something. If it’s not the lack of women earning degrees in science and technology, it’s the lousy 8 percent of VC funds that go to women-owned dot-coms. If it’s not the sexual stereotyping of girls and women in video games, it’s the differences between what men and women earn for the same work.

But I figure somebody has to do the complaining for all those millions of American women. They’re too busy working 25 percent longer to catch up with the men.

A teacher and a journalist, Dianne Lynch is the author of Virtual Ethics. Wired Women appears on alternate Wednesdays.