by Mary K. Pratt

The gender pay gap: An IT issue that must get fixed

Mar 31, 2021
Diversity and InclusionSalariesWomen in IT

A growing understanding of the importance of diverse teams has brought renewed urgency to addressing one of IT’s most persistent problems: gender pay inequity.

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March 24, 2021, marked this year’s Equal Pay Day — the date on which working women as a collective group catch up to men’s 2020 pay.

The fact that women must work an extra three months to earn what men make in 12 months is confirmed by data from multiple studies that show that women make less than men in all occupations and across all industries.

“The overarching story is that the gender wage gap is prevalent and over time it has been persistent. It has narrowed, but it has persisted. And it has stuck itself in this range of about 15 cents to the dollar,” says Rakesh Kochhar, a senior researcher with the Pew Research Center.

Despite its innovation and forward-looking nature, technology and enterprise IT professions also suffer a gender pay gap. A 2020 report from jobs site Dice reveals a pay differential that transcends regions, states, and occupations; the report also notes that in some states that differential exceeds $15,000.

Meanwhile, the 2020 Cybersecurity Professionals Salary Skills and Stress Survey from cybersecurity software company Exabeam reported that on average men made $91,000 but women only $62,000.

And figures from the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) found that new female graduates in computer science average $79,223 in pay while their male counterparts average $82,159.

“There shouldn’t be any gap at all. If two people are doing the same work, race and gender shouldn’t matter, they should be getting paid the same,” says Wendy DuBow, a senior research scientist and director of evaluation with NCWIT.

An impact on success

Executives have been confronted with the gender wage gap for decades. But recent events have both highlighted its continued existence and brought a renewed urgency to addressing the issue.

Brenda Darden Wilkerson, CEO and president,

Brenda Darden Wilkerson, CEO and president,

“Pay is a huge issue right now,” says Brenda Darden Wilkerson, CEO and president of, a global organization for women in technology.

Darden Wilkerson points to the fact that more women step out of the workforce to take care of family needs, such as for child or elder care, and often do so because they make less than the men in their lives. That scenario has been playing out in significant numbers during the pandemic, she adds.

More than 2.3 million women have left the workforce since the start of the COVID pandemic compared to 1.8 million men, according to the National Women’s Law Center. The women’s labor force participation rate, or the percent of women working or looking for work, now stands at 57%, the lowest rate since 1988.

This news comes as research continues to affirm the importance of diversity in the workforce and its criticality to organizational success.

“There’s a lot of research talking about diversity on work teams and boards leading to a more solid bottom line, so it makes economic sense for companies to be concerned about equity,” DuBow says.

In discussing its Equitable Performance-based Integrity Compensation (EPIC) model, Gartner reported that profits and share performance are 50% higher when women are well-represented at the top. It also reported that having women make up at least 30% of the C-suite adds 6% to net margins.

Christie Struckman, vice president for leadership, culture and people research, Gartner

Christie Struckman, vice president for leadership, culture and people research, Gartner

“There is a plethora of correlational studies that show the more women you have, the more innovative the organization is, and the higher the productivity, the profits, and the revenue. And it’s not just women, it’s all sorts of diversity you need to create a dynamic that helps avoid group think,” says Christie Struckman, a vice president in Gartner’s Leadership, Culture and People research team.

Struckman says pay equity is the idea that two people with the same job with similar education, experience, performance, and tenure should be paid the same.

Organizations failing to address pay parity, as well as other diversity issues, are increasingly experiencing negative effects. Facing allegations of systemic compensation and hiring discrimination at its California and Washington facilities, Google LLC settled with the U.S. Department of Labor and agreed to pay more than $3.8 million to more than 5,500 current employees and job applicants. Among other issues, Labor Department officials had identified pay disparities affecting female employees in software engineering positions.

Workers are noticing such conditions. Gartner found, for example, that 67% of job seekers overall look at workforce diversity issues when evaluating an offer. Given the already low unemployment rates in the technology/IT space and an 11% projected job growth rate in the upcoming decade, organizations can’t ignore this issue.

Andrew Jackson, co-founder and president, BravoTECH

Andrew Jackson, co-founder and president, BravoTECH

“To hold onto valuable employees, employers need to look at their compensation bands and make sure they’re adequate and competitive, because eventually employees who are paid less than others — whether they’re women or men — will leave,” says Andrew Jackson, co-founder and president of the IT staffing firm BravoTECH and a leader within the Society for Information Management (SIM).

Root causes

Multiple sources say several long-standing issues with deep societal roots have contributed to and still drive the gender wage gap. To start, there’s straight-out bias.

Researchers say the old-fashioned belief in paying men more because they’re the family’s breadwinners lingers in the subconsciousness of many organizations.

There’s also research showing that women need more qualifications to successfully land a job than men do, DuBow says. As a result, women are often hired into more junior roles, which means they not only start at lower pay but have extra steps to climb as they advance their careers and salaries.

Wendy DuBow, senior research scientist and director of evaluation, NCWIT

Wendy DuBow, senior research scientist and director of evaluation, NCWIT

Then there’s representational issues that can impact pay figures, according to researchers. Women aren’t as well represented in technology positions, particularly at the top tiers, a fact that pushes average and median pay figures below those for the male cohorts where there are higher percentage of executives with top-tier pay.

On top of that, women are less likely to negotiate or negotiate as aggressively as men do. There’s a multiplier effect with that, too, as raises built on lower salaries will mean the pay differential can expand over the years.

Similarly, Jackson says he and his staff also found that women tend to change jobs less frequently, which impacts how much they earn.

“Men will quite often jump for higher pay, and every time they do that, they go up higher on the salary range. Women tend not to jump around as much, so their salary is somewhat depressed,” he says. “The stability of women in the workforce can work as a detriment [to their pay].”

Meanwhile, researchers say women are more likely to apply for jobs only when they meet all of the requested qualifications while men tend to apply as long as they have many of them, another trend that keeps women from moving as much and as rapidly into senior positions with higher pay.

There are, however, questions on whether, how, and to what extent these factors impact the wage gap. “I read all the same things, that women in general are paid less and there are reports that say women in tech get paid less, but they don’t report all the same numbers,” Struckman says. “So it raises the question: Which one is right?”

For example, a survey that calculates the average pay for female IT workers and the average pay for male IT workers may conclude that women as a group make less than men. But that lower figure might be due to a lower proportion of women than men in the high-paying executive ranks. That then is a representational problem, not necessarily an indication that men and women doing the same job are paid differently.

Struckman says it’s important to understand all the dynamics so they can be properly addressed.

“It’s very difficult to solve something when you don’t know what you’re trying to solve,” Struckman adds. “But I think this is a really important point: This is messier than the quick sound bite. And it’s something that needs to be solved more systemically.”

Closing the gap

Kristen Lamoreaux, president and CEO of Lamoreaux Search and founder of SIM Women as well as a SIM Management Council member, has no illusions that the wage gap will close quickly or without direct action.

Kristen Lamoreaux, president and CEO, Lamoreaux Search

Kristen Lamoreaux, president and CEO, Lamoreaux Search

“It’s not something that’s going to be easily solved because it took generations to create, but if we don’t chip away at it, it will never be solved,” she says.

To close the gap, she advises CIOs and other executives to start with their recruiting practices to eliminate language that could deter a diverse slate of candidates. Consider, for example, seeking someone who is a “cultural add” instead of a “cultural fit”; it shows that a candidate’s ability to deliver outcomes is what’s valued.

She also recommends keeping salary ranges tight, which helps limit inequity while also still recognizing that some workers bring extra to their positions.

Lamoreaux and others also advise CIOs and organizations as a whole to analyze their salaries for inequities and adjust as needed. They also advise all candidates to do their homework so they know and can successfully negotiate for equitable pay.

Although Gartner has found that “pay equity is not a priority because business benefits are not believed,” Struckman and others say more CIOs and organizations as a whole are addressing the issue.

RJ Juliano, the chief information and marketing officer at Parkway, says he recognizes the need to ensure pay equity as part of an overall recruitment and retention strategy. (“I’m competing with every tech shop in the U.S. if not in the world,” he says.)

RJ Juliano, chief information and marketing officer, Parkway

RJ Juliano, chief information and marketing officer, Parkway

Juliano says he works with his HR department to annually benchmark all the IT jobs to ensure they’re at or near market rates. “That kind of discipline to make sure we’re paying internal people market rates and bringing people in at the right level solves some of the [pay equity issue]. It makes sure you’re not going to perpetuate inequity,” he says.

Kelly S. Lyman, CIO for PECO, an Exelon company, and vice president for IT Real Time Systems, has likewise worked on squeezing out any gender pay gaps by ensuring those “working in roles that are equal to others in those roles feel they are being fairly compensated for their work.”

Lyman says it’s part of her company’s overall efforts to address gender diversity in its ranks.

“My company has been very focused on elevating women in our organization and paving the way for more women leaders,” she says, adding that her company established mentoring programs for women in technology to provide career guidance, feedback, support, and sponsorship.

Caren Shiozaki, CIO, TMST

Caren Shiozaki, CIO, TMST

Caren Shiozaki, CIO of TMST and chair emeritus for the SIM board, says in her CIO roles she has analyzed team members’ pay to confirm and adjust for equity and created greater visibility into the pay ranges for the various positions.

“I believe in paying people what they’re worth. I recognize their value regardless of gender or any other [element of] diversity,” she says, adding that companies who ignore pay equity issues will hurt themselves. “You might get someone in cheap, it might not be good for that person and it won’t be good for your company. You end up with someone who either isn’t a good fit or someone is upset and going to leave, and turnover, as we know, is expensive.”

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