Friday, August 16, 2013

Equal Pay for Women

Equal pay for women is not only the right thing to do; it’s the law.  Yet we continue to hear stories of glass ceilings and inequality.  The latest comes in this USA Today article reviewing progress in the IT field.  The claim seems to be that women are underrepresented and underpaid, but as usual in these stories, a closer look shows some discrepancies in that generalization.

The article’s introduction tells of a woman who was an early adapter in terms of computer education.  Her explanation is that today there is “not that mental block or stigma that women in my generation held in what we were supposed to do."  In her opinion, women’s avoidance of the computer science major was an interest and a comfort issue, but now that’s changing.  The article continues:  “Even with advances, a gender gap still exists. An executive summary prepared for Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce notes that women represent 23% of the workers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions. But women make up 48% of workers in all occupations across the board.”

This implies a problem of exclusion, but from another source we learn that:  “According to a new report from the Census Bureau, foreign-born Americans are earning STEM degrees in disproportionately large numbers, compared to the native-born U.S. population.”  They account for 16.5% of the population, but 33% of graduates with engineering degrees, 27% with degrees in computers, math, and statistics."  Furthermore, part of the immigration debate involves the disproportionate number of international students receiving advanced STEM degrees.  Over 60% of graduate students in computer science in American universities are not American citizens.  Do these facts imply a similar kind of exclusion, a citizenship or place-of-birth gap? – Of course not.  In fact universities and employers favor American citizens over those requiring visas.  The underrepresentation of women that is complained of is an artifact of past lack of interest in the field plus, perhaps, a problem with the overall US education system.

What about the pay issue?  The USA Today article states that:  “On average, of the 15,000 employers contacted through an online poll, the survey found that male tech workers made $95,900 compared with $87,500 for women.”  Although we don’t know how well controlled or how representative this survey was, that does sound unfair.  The next sentence clarifies as follows:  However, the compensation gender gap has narrowed, with average salaries equal for male and female tech pros with comparable levels of experience and education and parallel job titles.” [Emphasis added.]  It’s easy to understand from the prior information that if women once avoided computer degrees, they would not yet have the tenure or experience that some men do.  Hence the discrepancy.  Where other factors are equal, no problem exists, and there is no reason to search for or accuse glass ceilings or other forms of covert discrimination.

Despite research findings to the contrary, based on true comparisons using like education, experience, etc., the issue of the gender gap continues to arise, often raised by politicians and advocates, based on general data or anecdotal evidence.  People believe and repeat the claim.  But why would anyone seek out reasons to portray herself or himself as a victim?  Victimhood is not a solution.  It’s only a path to resentment, a barrier to constructive problem solving, and an opportunity for those same politicians and advocates to gain power from other’s abdication of responsibility.

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