CXO

Closing the tech gender gap: How women can negotiate a higher salary

Women age 18-25 working in tech make 29% less than their male counterparts, according to a new report. Here are some tips to improve negotiation tactics and get paid what you deserve.

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Image: iStockphoto/tsvibrav

Young women entering the technology world are still paid far less than their male counterparts, but there is hope for change as they get older—if they stay in the field. A recent Comparably survey of 10,000 employees in the tech industry examined the gender pay gap in tech, and found that women earn less than men in nearly every tech job category, including finance, engineering, design, and IT.

The gender pay gap is worst for women age 18-25: A woman's median salary in that age range is $66,000, compared to $85,000 for a man's, representing 29% less pay.

A March Glassdoor study found similar results: Men in tech, specifically computer coders, made more than 28% more on average than women in the same position—the largest pay gap in any field, adjusted for experience, education, position, and location.

Women held 25% of professional computing occupations in 2015, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology—down from an all-time high of 36% in 1991. Only 17% of Fortune 500 Chief Information Officer positions were held by women in 2015.

SEE: Can these tech tools fight gender bias and increase workplace diversity?

"Women were becoming less numerous in the field at the same time its importance and prominence was rising," said Anne Krook, owner and principal of the consulting firm Practical Workplace Advice and author of the book "Now What Do I Say?": Practical Workplace Advice for Younger Women. "As salaries started going up and people started looking at this skillset as something they need, women had stepped away."

Other factors creating the early career wage gap include men's greater likelihood to negotiate a first salary offer relative to women, and sex segregation in tech jobs, according to Emily Amanatullah, research fellow at Georgetown University's Women's Leadership Institute. Typically, women take lower-paying tech jobs in areas such as administration, marketing, customer support, and HR, she added.

According to salary data from the US Census Bureau, women across all fields earn 79 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts.

The age factor

According to the Comparably survey, the wage gap remained between 14% and 27% throughout a woman's career compared to men in the same age group. That is, until the workers reached age 50, when something interesting happened: The gap narrowed significantly. Women over 50 reported a median salary of $140,000—only 5% less than the salary of men of the same age, who reportedly earn an average of $147,500.

"There is a severe age discrimination problem in the IT area, so that the people you look at of age 50 or so are the survivors," said Norm Matloff, professor of computer science at the University of California at Davis who studied hiring patterns in technology. It's likely that a disproportionate number of tech workers in this age population are in civil-service jobs, where it is more difficult for employers to engage in gender discrimination, he added.

Part of the reason is likely attrition: 56% of women in technology leave the field at the mid-level point, just when the loss of their talent is most costly to companies, according to research from the Harvard Business Review. This is more than double the quit rate for men. Women reported changing careers due to a hostile male culture, isolation, and workplace pressures, the study found.

"The women who are still there when they're in their fifties are likely to be highly experienced and dedicated to working in the field, and make a good living," said Ariane Hegewisch, program director of employment and earnings at the Institute for Women's Policy Research. "We need more of those to make it to those later stages."

The negotiation issue

Gender salary disparities often comes down to one important factor: Negotiation.

"Men are more likely to negotiate a first offer relative to women, who are more likely to accept without negotiating terms," Amanatullah said.

The debate tactics most useful for increasing your pay during a job or promotion offer are associated with traditional views of masculinity, such as assertion and self-promotion, Amanatullah said. These skills are at odds with traditional expectations about femininity, such as that women should be nurturing and other-oriented, she added.

"Women who assertively negotiate for themselves are able to garner better outcomes, but it comes at a social cost—they are seen as less attractive, less worthy of hire, and overall in a negative light," Amanatullah said. This is called the backlash effect, in which women who engage in stereotypically masculine behaviors are socially punished for doing so, she said.

Amanatullah conducted a study in 2009, in which she had men and women negotiate a starting salary for themselves in a simulation. Then, she had them negotiate on behalf of someone else.

When the women negotiated for themselves, they asked for an average of $7,000 less than the men did. However, when they negotiated for someone else, they asked for the same amount of money as the men.

If a women is negotiating for a friend, she is no longer seen as violating expectations, but rather, as conforming to femininity by being other-oriented, Amanatullah said. "Women should negotiate," Amanatullah said. "But they need to be savvy about the barriers to negotiation that they will experience compared to men."

One way to do this may be by promoting your other-orientation as well as your accomplishments, Amanatullah said. This might include playing up your relationships to your family, your team, your department, or even the company as a whole. "Try to appeal to these constituents and show that your assertiveness at the bargaining table is a means to achieve their ends, as well as your own," she added.

Tips for job seekers

Experts offer the following tips for any job seeker, male or female, to ensure they are paid the right amount for their skills:

-Do your research before your job offer. Examine cost of living in the area, and the salaries of other people in the field or the company, using tools such as PayScale. "Do all the research so you can put your best foot forward and have the knowledge to say, 'My collection of skills and experience is worth this much,'" Krook said.

-Come with the numbers. "The more objective information you have to base your counteroffer on the better," Amanatullah said. This also includes evaluating a job offer as a total package, including its salary, bonus, and benefits, as well as autonomy, work-life balance, and flexibility. "Know how to evaluate all aspects of a job offer to find one that best fits your personal needs," she added.

-Learn to negotiate. "A lot of people are intimidated by negotiating, but it's a skill like anything else—it gets better with practice," Krook said. Try role-playing with a friend, she suggests.

-Search for proactive companies. Many organizations have made a public commitment to closing the wage gap, such as those that signed the White House Equal Pay Pledge.

-Be realistic about your walk-away point. Think about the company's priorities, including their budget, goals, and what skills you have that can help them achieve. Think through your worth to the company, and from the perspective of who you are negotiating with.

Combating gender discrimination at your company

To ensure payment practices are equal, a company should first compare their salary data across groups. This is the most effective way to identify if you have a gender discrimination problem and begin to fix it, Krook said.

"It's easy to talk about a single decision—'The reason she got this is because this,'" Krook said. "It's harder to look at a list of 10 women against 10 men and say every woman was less qualified than every guy. Large data sets are compelling."

The fact that unconscious bias is becoming part of the mainstream workplace conversation helps, Krook said, as it gives all employees and managers a way to look at an issue like the gender wage gap without blaming one individual.

General diversity practices recommend also ensuring when possible that at least one woman is invited to interview for a position, Hegewisch said. Companies should also use objective criteria for evaluations, rather than relying on employees to self-promote or initiate negotiations for higher pay and promotions. "There are a lot of good practices that have been on the books for decades," she added, "But companies are still not doing them systematically."

Some companies taking a proactive stance on the wage gap are reducing the role of individual bargaining, Hegewisch said. "They are saying that there has to be a fair way of setting wages which they need to communicate, and make sure is based on objective factors other than how well and how often you bargain."

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Women age 18-25 working in tech are paid 29% less than their male counterparts, according to a recent study from Comparably. However, the gap narrows significantly for women in the field over age 50.
  2. The tech salary gap persists in part because women typically do not negotiate a salary offer relative to men, experts said. This impacts their future promotions and salaries at other companies as well.
  3. Companies should examine their salary data to determine if there are gender disparities, and use objective criteria for evaluations that decide on promotions, experts said.

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About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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