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7 February 2014

Gender: Women and Men – Pay inequity in Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley may have a progressive reputation, but it’s decidedly old-fashioned when it comes to the gender gap in pay.

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(Image courtesy of Joint Venture Silicon Valley)

By Faine Greenwood

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Silicon Valley may have a progressive reputation, but as data crunched by the researchers behind the 2014 Silicon Valley Index shows, it’s decidedly old-fashioned when it comes to the gender gap in pay.

Men who hold graduate or professional degrees earn a whopping 73 percent more than women with the same educational qualifications, while men with a bachelor’s degree earn 40 percent more than women with the same credentials, the study found.

Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a regional civic and trade association, discovered the gap as they looked at U.S. census data for San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, comparing the median pay of men and women.

Income inequality by gender is worse in Silicon Valley than it is for the whole of California: U.S. Census Bureau figures found that males with professional or graduate degrees earn 52 percent more than women when the entire population is taken into account, while men with a bachelor’s degree earn 36 percent more.

Interestingly, the situation in Silicon Valley is actually getting better, notes Rachel Massaro, vice president and senior researcher at Joint Venture Silicon Valley, who crunched the numbers.

“In 2010, men with a graduate or professional degree earned 97 percent more than women with a grad or professional degree,” she said.

There are a few things that likely don’t explain the income gap, Massaro points out. Roughly the same number of women work part-time jobs in Silicon Valley as do men. Further, there’s roughly equal numbers of highly educated men and women – 190,000 to 160, 000 respectively – with more women holding BAs than their male counterparts.

Negotiating may be another factor. “We have to ask whether or not women are asking for pay increases or negotiating salaries, and whether employers are giving them,” Massaro noted.

Family matters, too, as well as the outright sexism many often prefer to associate with the past. Women remain the primary caregivers in U.S. families and still face basic structural discrimination in business, experts say.

Occupational choice could also be a contributing factor, although a number of U.S. educational initiatives are working to get women and girls into science- and math-heavy educational programs — and convince parents to give both boys and girls toys that engage their brains.

But the problem goes deeper than these occupational choices and early influences, according to a number of experts on the topic.

“It’s not just that women aren’t engineers — it’s about if they can have access to these jobs, and can have support to enter highly paid occupations,” said Claudia Williams, a research analyst for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, D.C.

“If you’re an engineer, and you still don’t have flexibility and you have to balance it with other things, including family, you probably won’t take the high-paying occupation.”

As the Silicon Valley Index data indicates, income inequality actually gets worse as incomes go up, not better. “As you go up, the gap widens, and it’s usually because of lack of opportunity, barriers to access,” Williams said.

Many of Silicon Valley’s women may be highly educated, but as the data from the 2013 Silicon Valley Index suggests, educational achievement may not be translating into the same economic success enjoyed by their male counterparts.

“There’s no point to having an advanced degree, if there’s no access to these highly paid careers,” Williams said.