The IT industry has long been viewed a male-dominated domain, providing few career opportunities for female techies.

As TechRepublic columnist Bob Weinstein pointed out in a recent column, “Career outlook rosier, but obstacles persist for women in IT,” there are many hurdles preventing women from reaching upper management. The tech industry has a history of pay inequity between men and women, and because many women techies grapple with both home and family needs, the long hours required of a tech job often prevent them from reaching their long-term career goals.

But low pay and the work-vs.-home life issue may not be the only factors at play. In a member discussion, TechRepublic member jennyred said the lack of females in IT is the result of “a combination of persistent sexism in the field and the fact that women feel that they would do better in more ‘soft-skills’-oriented jobs—whether that’s true or not is up for debate.”

But if lower pay is a major factor, there’s good news for all those female techies that have hung in, worked the hours, and balanced all of their responsibilities.

Pay rates balancing out
If you’re a woman with 20 years of tech experience—or if you’ve got experienced female managers spearheading IT units—it might be time for a raise. According to 2000 income data reported in the “IEEE-USA Salary & Fringe Benefit Survey, 2001 Edition,” the median income of professional women with 20 to 29 years in the electrotechnology and IT fields is 7 percent higher than that of like-experienced men.

Women with 20 to 24 years experience earned $100,037 per year from primary sources, while men made $98,500. Women with 25 to 29 years received $107,000; men, $99,600. Primary sources include base salary, bonuses, commissions, and self-employment income.

The survey data represent the responses of nearly 10,000 IEEE-USA members. (The IEEE has 365,000 members worldwide.) But although the report’s findings seem to provide evidence that women are moving ahead in the IT field, some believe that the battle is not over yet.

Want to know what you should be making?

Check out IEEE’s Salary Calculator, an online salary calculator based on the recent survey findings that makes it easy for tech professionals to assess their market value.

Salary survey has its skeptics
This latest salary news, released in late December 2001 by the IEEE-USA, an arm of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, isn’t being endorsed across the board. Several compensation experts are skeptical of the survey results, noting that few women reach the highest rungs on the corporate technology ladder.

In trying to find an explanation for the “somewhat surprising” IEEE survey results, Bill Coleman,‘s senior vice president of compensation, said, “It is possible that the small population of women who have been working in the field for 20-plus years represents the ‘cream of the crop,’ whereas the men include a more normal distribution of strong, average, and weak performers. This would be a likely scenario if these salary findings are consistent with IEEE membership surveys in past years.”

Another oddity about the IEEE findings, added Coleman, is that in other surveys—IT specific or otherwise—the pay gap between men and women widens as age and experience increase, with men continuing to make more money. A survey of more than 100,000 technology professionals in 2001 reported that there was “virtual pay parity” among people with less than five years of experience. That survey reported that of employees with 10 or more years of experience, women earned, on average, 9 percent less than men.

Twenty years of data show a trend toward salary parity between men and women, according to Jack Chapman, a salary coach and author of Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1000 a Minute (Ten Speed Press, 2000, $12.95). “Twenty years ago, the figure I used to quote was that women made 59 cents on the dollar [men earned],” said Chapman. In the early 90s, that figure rose to 79 cents, he added.

Achieving earnings equality has historically been akin to breaking the four-minute mile, explained Chapman—except perhaps in the tech industry, where there appears to be a very small gender-related pay gap, noted Coleman.

Carolyn Leighton, chairwoman and founder of Women in Technology International (WITI), is also critical of the survey.

“I find it difficult to believe that the information collected in this study represents an accurate picture of access to equity pay for women,” she said. “Based on extensive discussions with executive women and surveys conducted by WITI in the past, I find these conclusions to be highly questionable at best,” Leighton added.

Very few women work at the top of major U.S. corporations, something the survey seemingly ignores, said Leighton. The Fortune 500 includes only five woman CEOs, she noted. (Women make up 6.8 percent of the IEEE’s U.S. membership.)

The survey reported that in the lower ranks of IT staff, men continue to earn more than their female counterparts. Of those with five to six years of experience, men made a median income of $76,000, compared to $68,000 for women. Men received $96,000 at 15 to 19 years, while women earned $84,700. (The median primary income for U.S. IEEE members in 2000 was $93,100.)

The full IEEE survey was released in June of 2001, and results were announced in late December of 2001.

Are women making big bucks today?

If you’re a female tech leader, what do you think of the IEEE survey? Write us or share your career salary experience with peers by starting a discussion below.