Much has been said and written about the gender gap in tech, including the disparity in pay between men and women. We’ve all seen the statistics. According to salary data from Glassdoor and the U.S. Census Bureau, women in tech fields earn roughly 75–80 percent of that earned by their male counterparts in tech positions. The biggest disparities occur among coders (more on that later). This isn't just a moral problem. It's an issue of missed opportunity for the tech economy. It's time we get beyond acknowledging the problem and get started on figuring out why it exists so we can fix it.
The first step in fixing the wage gap is acknowledging the perception gap. According to a study by Bridge, the corporate training arm of my company, men don’t see the equal pay problem as much as women do. In fact, the majority of men think women have equal opportunity, but less than half of women agree. This finding seems to support the opinion of Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at Glassdoor. "My view is that in heavily male dominated fields, the people who are making the decisions about pay and promotion are disproportionately men, and that can play a role in why we're seeing gaps in male and female pay," Chamberlain told the L.A. Times.
The good news -- there's appetite for change. According to our research, both sexes want and expect women and men to receive equal pay for equal work within the next five years. The bad news -- if change and improvement keep moving at their current pace, the gender pay gap won’t actually close for another 100 years. That's an unacceptable level of opportunity cost at a time when technology can and should be the catalyst for unprecedented human progress. In tech, where the most optimistic estimates put women at one-third of the workforce, our biggest challenge in achieving parity is overcoming distortions in perception.
Perhaps it would help align perspectives if the true cost of the gender gap in tech was itself put into perspective. First, the macroeconomic impact is huge. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the U.S. GDP could add more than $2 trillion simply by achieving greater gender parity in pay and participation in the workforce. This, of course, translates at the level of individual corporations, where MIT research suggests that companies with greater gender diversity tend to have better top and bottom lines. Who doesn't want that right now?
Looking ahead, the entire tech ecosystem faces a potential talent crisis that requires greater participation from women if it's to be avoided. The skills gap looms large, with the number of unfilled tech positions expected to rise to one million in 2020, which can be directly attributed to the inability to find skilled candidates. If qualified women continue to feel alienated and struggle to see the advantage of working in technology fields, the skills shortage will continue to grow.
Related: Why We Need More Women in STEM
To close the perception gap, we need to find an objective, fact-based way to frame complex narratives. For example, one theory posits that deeply technical fields simply attract more men -- women aren't interested. There's another side to that story, however. Before the brogrammer became Silicon Valley royalty, computer programming was widely considered a relatively menial role and was dominated by women. But when the coding gold rush hit, and male programmers began to outnumber women coders, the coding roles began paying more and gaining prestige.
This is a pattern, and one that is likely viewed very differently by men and women. Research shows that as women take over a male-dominated field, the pay in that field drops. When women moved into occupations in large numbers, those jobs began paying less even after controlling for education, work experience, skills, race and geography. For a man, it must look like women just aren't interested. To women, it feels like they're being relegated.
Now, women see a tech sector where pay and opportunity are lower for them across the board. According to Glassdoor’s Chamberlain, there aren’t “any examples of technical jobs where there is a pay advantage for women.” The ripples extend beyond compensation. Another recent study found that half of women in the formative years of their tech careers (age 21-49) believe their male colleagues are more likely to get promoted than female coworkers. The same study found that one in five women in their 20s and 30s aspire to c-level positions in tech fields, but they're afraid to ask for raises and promotions.
Related: 3 Men Leading the Fight For Equality
Here again, the problem of perception muddies the water and obstructs us from dealing with the root cause. It seems clear to me that men, perhaps in spite of good intentions, can't possibly understand the perspective of women because their career experiences are fundamentally different from ours. Conversely, if we're not careful, women can adopt a martyr's mentality that swings the pendulum too far in the other direction. Neither perspective is truly objective nor helpful in reaching the desired result.
The wage gap is a complex problem, but it's also an irrefutable one with consequences that go far beyond existential questions of fairness and equity. The loudest voices shout from the fringes, but shrill conversations won't fix things. Because there's so much at stake, this conversation deserves to be carried out in a thoughtful way. I'm optimistic that's the direction it's heading, and that's not just good for women. It's good for all of us.