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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Gender Pay Gap Is a Myth—or Is It?

According to a recent article in Forbes, women can rest easy because the gender pay gap myth has officially been debunked.

Well, actually, I take that back; the author of the article doesn't want us to rest easy.

Actually, she wants us to be mad at our government for "manipulating statistics in a way to convince women that they are the victims of systematic societal discrimination, and, therefore, stand to benefit from further government action." Basically, she wants college women to stop buying into this "78 cent pay gap myth."

Pretty strong stuff.

The author of this article makes some good points. In particular, she points out that while it's true the median earnings of full-time female workers is 78% of the median earnings of full-time male workers, this doesn't mean a woman working alongside a man doing the same job will get paid 22% less simply for being a woman.

No, the stat simply means that women—on average—are making 78% of what men make.

And this is actually an important distinction, since it could mean there are reasons behind this salary gap other than just gender-biased managers paying his male employees 22% more than similar female employees.

But does that mean we can all heave a sigh of relief, and throw the gender pay gap "myth" in the pile of "debunked things we can all finally ignore" (right there along with "eating chocolate causes acne")?

Well, I probably wouldn't be writing this post if I thought that was true.

You see, even if women aren't being paid (significantly) less for doing the same job as men, they are unquestionably being paid less in general. And as a woman, I'd like to know why.

Ok, so why are women being paid less than men?

Unfortunately, it's a simple question with a not-so-simple answer.

Actually, there are several reasons women make less than men. For example, one reason men make more than women is simply that jobs with higher pay are often dominated by men.

In fact, you can check out this nifty chart from PayScale, which shows that men dominate higher-paying industries like engineering while most jobs held primarily by women pay less than $40,000 per year.

Unfortunately, even though this chart is nifty, it doesn't get us to the root of the issue—it doesn't tell us why women are holding less of these high-paying jobs than men.

Why are women taking lower-paying jobs than men?

In another Forbes article (God bless their hearts), the author is of the opinion that women don't hold many high-paying tech jobs because we just don't want them.

As proof, he points to a report by the Pew Research Center showing that the number of women choosing to be stay-at-home moms is growing. And according to him, lower-paying jobs in education, nursing, social work, and counseling allow women more flexibility to stay home, while tech jobs don't.

(Which, in my opinion, would be a good theory... if it made any sense. I mean, what teacher or nurse do you know with a flexible schedule?)

This author goes on to emphasize that women aren't prevented from earning technology degrees—they just choose not to.

Men dominate higher-paying industries like engineering while most jobs held primarily by women pay less than $40,000 per year.

Now, the author doesn't back his opinion up with any data, so who knows how much truth is behind it. But even if this idea is true, the situation could be a little more complicated than just women don't like computers.

For example, this study published in the journal Sex Roles focused on how media and stereotypes can pretty dramatically affect whether or not a woman is interested in majoring in, for example, computer science.

Specifically, the study reported that women who read that computer science majors have traits that are "incompatible with the female gender role" (e.g., lacking interpersonal skills and being singularly focused on computers) were less likely to express interest in computer science than women who read that computer scientists no longer fit the stereotypes.

And researchers from Yale reported that those women who do decide to major in science have a harder time actually getting a job than a man with the same qualifications.

In Yale's study, university science faculty were asked to rate applications—which were randomly assigned either a male or female name—for a laboratory manager position. Surprisingly (or, perhaps unsurprisingly), the researchers found that the faculty rated the male applicants as significantly more "competent and hireable" than identical female applicants. What's more, the faculty chose a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicants.

So women really are being discriminated against?

Again, the answer probably isn't that cut-and-dried.

Even if these studies do legitimately represent how college women and hiring managers think on a larger scale, this is likely just one factor in a hugely complex situation.

But one thing these studies can tell us is that we shouldn't just dismiss the gender pay gap as a myth or something we need to ignore. If anything, these studies should at least indicate that we need to figure out if there is a problem here—for example, are women who want jobs in tech being kept out of the industry?—and if so, what we can do about it.

I mean, maybe that Forbes author is right, and there is no problem. Maybe women simply don't like computers.

Then again, maybe the reason all these great apps haven't been invented is because the woman who could program them just wasn't hired.

Tell me your thoughts on this. Have you ever experienced any sort of gender bias?