Diversity and Inclusion
Unconscious Bias
Work and Organizations

Finding solutions to the gender pay gap in tech

Technology is the definitive industry of the twenty-first century. It drives innovation, and fuels a significant portion of the global economy. Yet the tech industry faces severe criticism for its underrepresentation of women and its failure to recruit, retain, and promote women.

Despite many efforts to change the status quo, current research shows a persistent gender pay gap between men and women, and an even greater gap between men and minority women, in the tech industry. To examine this gender pay gap, the Clayman Institute for Gender Research and the Stanford School of Engineering hosted the Roundtable on Pay Equality in Technology, co-sponsored by Glassdoor. The roundtable event featured leaders of business and academia who interrogated the industry’s gender pay gap by examining the underlying factors that have stymied pay equality. They then concluded their discussion by offering potential pathways to create workable solutions.

Moderated by Clayman Institute Executive Director Lori Nishiura Mackenzie, the panel included Clayman Institute Director Shelley Correll, Professor Sheri Sheppard (Mechanical Engineering, Stanford University), Cindy Robbins (EVP, Global Employee Success, Salesforce), Blake Irving (CEO, GoDaddy), and Robert Hohman (CEO, Glassdoor).

In part, the panelists agreed, the gap can be attributed to bias in the workplace that can affect a range of workplace practices, such as hiring, performance management, access to leadership and more. Further, occupational segregation by gender can also limit pathways to professional growth and higher paying fields.

Furthermore, stereotypes and bias affect career choices and career advancement. Many researchers have noted, for example, that “occupational sorting”—with women and men in different industries and jobs—accounts for a significant part of the gender pay gap. But this begs a deeper question. “What we have to ask ourselves,” said Correll, “is why are men and women ending up in different jobs?” According to Correll, stereotypes about women’s technical and leadership capabilities play a role in determining not only who enters technology careers but who also advances to senior roles in technology companies. “Women in technology experience all kinds of signals—starting at very early ages—that they are not as technically capable as men. But the effect of stereotypes doesn’t end there,” she noted about how women experience a kind of “freezing out” in the industry.

Closing the gender pay gap is important, not only for senior women, but also for new college graduates who are just entering the workforce. Sheppard, who studies the career paths of engineering graduates, finds that even before graduation, proportionately more men than women are targeting engineering-focused careers. Consequently, only a few years out of college, data shows that more men than women hold engineering occupations. “What we are now exploring are the motivations for women seeking non-engineering positions, and the collection of experiences women (and men) are having in college that inform their choices,” Sheppard observed of this pipeline problem that begins in college. “Both men and women are searching for meaningful work and have similar financial concerns, but their undergraduate experiences may be translating into different choices and, ultimately, different workplace experiences and outcomes.”

Pointing to research conducted by Clayman Institute researchers, with data compiled from 36 companies and five national labs, Correll explained how this sorting occurs: “We find that, even once in the technology industry, women can find themselves steered out of technical roles and into careers such as marketing, human resources and project management, which often pay less and may not have the same potential for advancement,” she explained. In addition, stereotypes may inadvertently cause managers to question the technical abilities of women, slowing their career pathways to higher paying jobs. As a result, women are less likely to stay in the engineering track.

Irving witnessed the decline of female job retention at GoDaddy and expressed his company’s commitment to addressing the issue within the broader context of redressing the gender pay gap. “It’s important not only to bring women engineers into the company but also to keep them in the company,” Irving stated. His advice to other companies going through internal assessment in order to resolve these systemic issues is to “[l]ook beyond pay as a variable: look at retention and promotion.”

To this extent, the role of the CEO as a change agent is critical to move the needle toward gender equality in the tech industry. Salesforce executive Robbins acknowledged that many CEOs have not made the gender pay gap a priority, but recounted how she and a colleague decided to bring the issue to Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who was very receptive. After an internal assessment that uncovered the gender pay gap within the company, Salesforce dedicated $3 million to ensure equal pay between men and women. Robbins’s story reiterated the importance of executive involvement closing the pay gap: “The CEO,” she stressed, “has to make it a priority to shift.”

Hohman, Glassdoor’s CEO, echoed Robbins’s statement: “Pull the trigger and pay equally,” he advised. “I haven’t met a CEO who would not die to have the best engineers—period.” He encouraged women to stand up and speak out. “Use your power and demand to get paid,” he continued. “They’re going to pay you because they want to keep you because you’re good. Use your power.”

Watch the Roundtable on Pay Equality, below: