Women's Paychecks Still Lag Men's

A gender gap in the findings of Computerworld (U.S.)'s annual salary survey

Law Firm IT director Patti Henderson says it's an open secret among a group of her professional peers in Boise, Idaho: Men working in the same IT positions freely admit that they make more money at the same jobs. For Henderson, her predecessor at law firm Givens Pursley LLP earned 12% more as director of IT.

"He came right out and said it. The excuse is that he knew the firm and the way things ran better [than I did], and I would have to build up to [his salary level]," she recalls. It took her five years in the IT director's position to make as much as he had made a half-decade earlier.

The gender gap in compensation remains striking, according to Computerworld's 20th annual Salary Survey. A male director of IT makes US$114,045 on average, while a female with that title makes US$109,446, according to the survey. The gap between men and women widens to nearly US$10,000 with the title of CIO or vice president of IT.

Across the board, total IT compensation averaged US$91,464 for men and US$80,781 for women. Those figures are similar to those from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which reported that in 2005, women's usual median weekly earnings were 81% of men's. And although that pay disparity isn't for IT workers alone, the industry does have its own challenges.

"The numbers are symbolic of the obstacles and roadblocks that IT organizations have put up [for women] that are sending women away in droves," says Gartner analyst Diane Morello, who in October presented a maverick study called "Men and Women in IT: Breaking through Sexual Stereotypes."

Morello says IT departments should look beyond gender to the unique and vital characteristics that women bring to a high-performance team. She says research shows that women listen better than men, possess better language skills and score better on assessments of social skills and ability to understand other people's views, which aids in team-building and negotiations.

Still, those revelations haven't helped boost salaries for some women in IT. Jennifer, a wireless network engineer in Florida who asked to remain anonymous, is relieved that the disparity between her paycheck and those of her male counterparts is only $5,000. At her last job, the pay difference was nearly US$20,000.

"Naturally, I thought about submitting my resume with only a first initial. But when they get me on the phone, I can't exactly hide that I'm a female," she says.

Jan, a manager of Internet services at a nonprofit organization who also asked that her full name not be used, knows she's paid less than the men in her group. "There's probably a US$15,000 difference" in pay, she says. "But at this point, I'd be crazy to leave. I'm too close to retirement."

Morello offers these words of advice: "If I were a woman trying to advance, I would look at companies that have more global business and put myself in positions for greater teaming and global projects. Also, I would be asking if I have the right kind of mentors - those who are tapped into business-based advancements and the people who have high credibility," many of whom happen to be men.

If these stereotypes aren't eliminated, Morello cautions that 40% of women will leave the IT workforce by 2012. And if that happens, she says, suddenly "your IT skills crisis is 50% worse than you think."

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