Reality check

by Sarah Fister Gale

DECADES HAVE PASSED since the United States and the United Kingdom enacted laws requiring equal pay for women. Yet questions linger over how things play out in the real world. The IT industry is no exception. It would seem fair to assume a progressive field driven by innovation would have an equally progressive attitude about fair wages. Yet some studies show that women—still a relatively rare commodity in IT—are trapped in low-level positions and continue to bring home less than men.

Only about one-third of 330 U.K. female tech professionals said their pay reflects their experience and skills, according to the Perceptions of Equal Pay Report 2008, released by U.K. IT group Intellect last October.

In the United Kingdom, the problem begins early in school. Despite statistics that show female students outperform their male counterparts in science and technology courses, the number of girls pursuing IT-related education tracks is much lower than boys, according to the Women in IT Scorecard. The report was published in March by Intellect and two other U.K. IT groups: the British Computer Society and e-skills UK. »


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The pay gap between male and female IT workers age 16 to 29


The pay gap between male and female IT workers age 40 to 49

Source: Women in IT Scorecard


Women currently represent less than one-fourth of the U.K. IT workforce. And those women who do make it into the field are being paid less. The Scorecard report shows that in every year from 2001 to 2008 and across all age groups, female IT professionals consistently earned less than male IT professionals. In 2008, women in IT earned 13 percent less than their male counterparts.

The inequality is not just unfair. It carries negative repercussions that could spread across the industry—and the nation, says Karen Price, CEO of e-skills UK, London, England.

“In the current economic downturn, the country is relying more than ever on the capability of the technology workforce to drive innovation and productivity,” she says. “For the sector to be largely missing out on half the talent pool in this way is clearly a major concern.”

The pay gap extends to U.K. project managers, according to the Project Management Benchmark Report 2009 released in February. Conducted by U.K. recruiting firm Arras People, the survey shows that 39 percent of U.K. male project managers earn more than £50,000 per year, versus only 19 percent of women. Comparatively, 34 percent of women in project management roles earn less than £30,000, while only 14 percent of men do.

“There is a distinct difference between salaries achieved across gender when viewed as a percentage of all respondents,” says John Thorpe, managing director of Arras People, London.

He attributes the variance to the fact that more women are likely to be working in project support than in project leadership roles.

The theory is backed by the Scorecard, which reports that female IT professionals account for just 19 percent of IT managers and 14 percent of IT strategy and planning professionals, but comprise nearly three-fifths of database assistants and clerks.

For those women who do make it out of low-level positions, however, there are signs that inequalities can be overcome, according to a survey of more than 19,000 U.S. IT workers. Conducted by the U.S. career site Dice between August and November 2008, the study revealed that, as a group, women earned 12 percent less on average than men. But that gap vanished when researchers looked at men and women from similar levels of experience, education and job titles.

And that shouldn't be a surprise, says Constance Melrose, vice president at Dice Holdings Inc., New York, New York, USA.

“At the end of the day, tech is about skills—and applying those skills to a problem or opportunity,” she says. “If you are a great programmer, security analyst or project manager, gender shouldn't play a role.”


The only way for women to receive fair pay is to know their worth and negotiate accordingly, advises Petra Goltz, PMP. Based in Rome, Italy, she is chair of the PMI IT & Telecom Specific Interest Group and project manager at SITA, a global IT and telecom company in the aerospace industry.

Working in IT positions in London early in her career, Ms. Goltz says she was paid less than her male colleagues, but once she learned to negotiate for what she wanted, the inequalities disappeared.

“If you don't ask for what you want, you won't get it,” she says, adding that men tend to be more aggressive and confident in salary discussions. “Women are less adept at asking for what's due to them and are often fearful of rejection.”

But that's how wage inequalities are maintained, Ms. Goltz says.

Women should go in armed with data about what constitutes a fair wage in their position and locale. She advises women to check job boards, talk to IT workers in similar roles and visit job centers to gauge their worth in the current job market before sitting down to discuss salary.

“You can't just dive into a job and then complain about it later,” Ms. Goltz says. “When you are informed and ask for what you deserve, you are less likely to undersell yourself.”




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