Pay Inequality Is More Than a Numbers Problem

It’s no secret that business and IT have traditionally tilted toward a male-centric culture. And while women have made enormous strides toward equality over the last few decades, significant gaps still exist.

According to the Council of Economic Advisors, the median wage of a woman working full-time year-round in the United States is now about $39,600—only 79 percent of a man’s median earnings of $50,400. Yet, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that more full-time working women than men have college degrees.

Pay inequality isn’t the only problem, however. Various studies show that in IT and computing, only about 25 percent of the jobs are held by women, and only about 20 percent of CIO jobs are held by women in Fortune 250 firms. Meanwhile, a 2012 National Science Foundation report noted that women and minorities are significantly “underrepresented” in the science and engineering fields: White women make up only 25 percent of workers, and minority women represent about 10 percent.

The issue isn’t about to go away anytime soon. Only about 18 percent of college graduates in the U.S. with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees are women.

Recognizing that a wage-gap problem exists is the first step toward changing things. In January, President Obama announced that the White House is taking action to address the issue. Among other things, the administration is working to improve data collection for businesses with 100 or more employees. This is on top of a 2009 piece of legislation, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, that allows women to recover lost wages due to pay discrimination.

Yet, the problem remains somewhat insidious. A letter penned by Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce (who spoke at the White House Event) noted that he wasn’t aware of a problem at his company despite a commitment to equality.

He wrote: “One day last year, two female executives in my company came to me and said we might be paying women less than men. This was a complete surprise to me. It didn’t occur to me that inequality could creep into our company culture at Salesforce. We then looked at the salary of every employee in the company, and it turned out we did have a pay gap.”

To be sure, more effort is needed, particularly if businesses are to navigate increasingly common shortages in IT knowledge and skills. A 2014 study conducted by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) found that while 64 percent of companies overall have implemented diversity initiatives, only 38 percent said their retention strategies are designed to help retain a diverse workforce.

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