Some Cause for Optimism in Hired’s Research on Gender Wage Gap

Amid the ongoing conversation about gender discrimination in the tech industry, and recent sexual harassment claims against some of its biggest names, here’s some sort-of good news about women in tech:

When companies make job offers to both men and women, women receive lower salary offers 63 percent of the time for the same job, according to San Francisco-based Hired, an online matchmaker for jobseekers and tech companies.

That may not sound like cause for rejoicing, but it’s a bit better than last year’s numbers, when Hired found that women got lower offers 69 percent of the time.

What may be more encouraging for women and minority groups under-represented in tech (who were included in Hired’s analysis of job searches on its own platform), is that the secrecy surrounding tech employment patterns is breaking down.

Hired’s report, released earlier this week, is part of a growing flow of information as the tech industry comes under increasing pressure to reveal and justify its hiring and promotion practices. Uber recently unveiled the percentages of women and minority members serving as staffers and leaders in its workforce, which was shown to be heavily skewed toward white men. Uber offered those numbers as it coped with an uproar that arose after former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, in a blogpost that went viral, said Uber took no action after she and other women complained about sexual harassment by a manager at the company.

The growing access to tech employment data gives job candidates from underrepresented groups more power to negotiate—a declared mission for Hired as a company, says Hired data scientist Jessica Kirkpatrick (pictured above.)

In Hired’s second diversity report, one tentative lesson for women might seem to be, “Ask and you shall receive.’’

Women not only receive less money from their new employers, they also ask for less, according to the report. On average, the difference is 4 percent; but in some cases, women asked for as much as 80 percent less than a comparable man would request. Employers base their compensation offers on these “preferred salaries” stated by candidates in their Hired profiles, Kirkpatrick says.

But does that mean women could reverse the pay gap merely by being more demanding? Not necessarily. The salary-setting dance can be as complex as the strategic ploys in home buying and selling, and it’s much more intertwined with cultural and psychological factors.

Like other professionals, experienced women in tech often base their “preferred salary” on the salary they’re making in their current jobs. And that number can have “years of bias and sexism baked in,” Kirkpatrick says. For example, women are promoted less quickly than men, she says.

Kirkpatrick seems well-positioned to ponder the social and cultural experiences that lie behind the statistics. She earned a PhD in astrophysics from UC Berkeley, writing her thesis on quasars. If she had gone to “a more welcoming school,” she might have become an astronomy professor, she says. But one factor that may have influenced her decision to leave both academia and astronomy was the treatment of women in her department.

“It certainly didn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy about it,” Kirkpatrick says.

At Berkeley, Kirkpatrick joined in a complaint against a highly successful researcher and professor, Geoffrey Marcy, who was accused of sexually harassing women graduate students over a period of close to 10 years. She said in the complaint that she witnessed one such incident at a meeting, intervened, and talked it over with the woman targeted. (After Berkeley’s investigation came to light, Marcy resigned in 2015.)

Rather than vying for a university post after graduation, Kirkpatrick chose to work in the tech industry, where data science was becoming a hot field and where she expected to have many more potential employers.

She landed a job quickly. But “as we’ve seen recently, tech is not perfect,” she says.

Looking back now, Kirkpatrick says she failed to negotiate well when she accepted her first tech job out of grad school. She later discovered that similarly trained men were making thousands of dollars more than she was, in the same role at the same company.

Later, deciding to move on, she became a job candidate through Hired, where she received counseling on setting her pay expectations.

“It was not until going through the process at Hired that I realized I could actually ask for a lot more,” Kirkpatrick says. After stints at other tech companies, she joined Hired as a data scientist, and began analyzing hiring patterns based on anonymized data on thousands of interactions between tech companies and jobseekers.

Some findings in Hired’s 2017 report, “Women, Work, and The State of Wage Inequality,” suggest that younger women in tech are becoming better negotiators and eroding the gender salary gap—a contrast with the behavior of women candidates overall.

Women with less than one year of work experience asked for an average of 4 percent more than men did when they set their “preferred salaries” as job candidates on Hired’s platform in 2016. It paid off, Hired found. These women ended up earning 8 percent more.

This repeats a pattern found among entry-level women candidates in Hired’s 2016 report, analyzing job searches in 2015. The junior women demanded 2 percent more than men, and reaped salaries an average of 7 percent higher than those of comparable men. That boosted the women into a salary range above $90,000.

Hired speculated in the 2016 report that a new generation might be closing the “expectation gap.”

“One hypothesis for this phenomenon is that this cohort—which is likely on the cusp of Generation Z and Millennial—have been raised at a time when traditional gender roles have had far less influence than in the past,” according to the 2016 report. “Recent research has also shown that Generation Z has a strong sense of self confidence and a strong belief in equal treatment for everyone.”

(Generation Z generally refers to people born beginning in the mid-1990s—the demographic cohort following Millennials.)

Hired also speculated that these entry-level workers are benefiting from the wider availability of objective salary information in the tech hiring marketplace.

But will that confidence and negotiating savvy continue to bear fruit as these younger women put in more years on the job? It’s a question that Hired can’t answer yet.

Among the women who already had more than six years of experience when they sought a new position in 2016, “the wage gap returns as experience increases,” Hired’s new report says. These women ask for an average of 4 percent less than men do. Correspondingly, they get an average of 4 percent less—and in certain cases they were offered up to 50 percent less.

These differences in compensation don’t seem to relate to qualifications, Kirkpatrick says. Hired rigorously curates the selection of job candidates offered to its tech company clients on the platform, and only 10 percent of applicants make the cut, she says. Of those, 80 percent are men and 20 percent are women, about the same split found in tech company workforces.

Hired already helps its candidates get a better sense of the market value of their skills by providing online tools and the advice of its counselors, called Talent Advocates. But late last year, the company started an experiment to see whether women would be more likely to claim what they’re worth if they had more detailed information. Half the candidates in the experiment were shown a specific range of salaries that past applicants have actually received for the same positions the candidates were seeking.

The results of the experiment so far are depressing, Kirkpatrick says. Women generally stated a “preferred salary” on the lower end of the range they were shown; men usually staked a claim to a salary on the high end of the range for the same job title.

“The wage gap got worse than if the candidates were never shown the salary range,” Kirkpatrick says.

The experiment is still running. Kirkpatrick says she’d like to interview the women involved to find out their reasons for lowballing themselves. “I would love for us to dig into that more,” she says.

Does the self-worth of experienced women in tech get ground down over the years by the unconscious bias or overt discrimination of a majority male company culture? Speaking from her own experience, Kirkpatrick says simply being a member of an under-represented group can be wearing.

“You look around, you don’t see many people who look like you; you don’t see leaders who look like you.’’ Kirkpatrick says. “It’s a huge emotional drain to constantly be feeling like ‘the other.’”

Aside from psychological factors, it’s possible that women are making a rational decision to underprice themselves so they can attract an offer, or a wider variety of offers, Kirkpatrick says. Hired’s counselors talk candidates through these tradeoffs.

Hired found some evidence that women may need to offer employers an incentive to include them in the groups asked in for an interview.

In their efforts to fill specific jobs, companies chose only male candidates for interviews 53 percent of the time. In two thirds of hiring searches, women were under-represented in the interview pools—even after taking into account the lower percentage of women in Hired’s candidate pool.

In spite of widespread efforts to attract girls into STEM fields including computer science, the percentage of women in the tech workforce is shrinking, according to a report by Accenture and Girls Who Code. Women are twice as likely to leave the tech sector than men, Hired says.

Moving its analysis beyond gender alone, Hired has also looked at the combined effects of race, gender and sexual orientation on salaries.

“There is the type of discrimination you would stereotypically expect,” Kirkpatrick says. White men were offered the highest salaries, followed by Asian and Latino men. White and Asian women came next, followed by black men, Latino women, and then black women.

In a separate comparison based on sexual orientation, straight men earned the most, followed by LGBTQ men, heterosexual women, and lastly, LGBTQ women.

Are Hired’s clients nervous that the hiring platform is using employers’ own data to reveal these patterns of apparent discrimination or unconscious bias?

Kirkpatrick says individual company results are kept confidential; Hired only reports data in an aggregated form. Reporters will ask which company paid an equally qualified woman 80 percent less than a man in the same role—one of Hired’s data points on the far end of the spectrum in its 2016 report. “We’re never going to give that data out,” she says.

Some Hired clients are eager to learn more about their own workforce patterns, Kirkpatrick says.

“Our clients are really actually excited that we are giving them these insights into their hiring,” she says. “We’ll pull more detailed data if they want it.”

Hired itself does a wage gap analysis of its 200-member staff every six months, and adjusts salaries when it finds that certain groups have been disadvantaged, Kirkpatrick says. These imbalances can arise innocently, she says. For example, certain specialties may be in high demand at particular times, resulting in higher pay for a small cohort of hires that has little diversity.

Kirkpatrick says companies should think twice about taking advantage of job candidates who undervalue themselves when they apply, because that may act against the company’s self-interest in the long run. Some companies, in fact, do pay women more than they asked for, she says.

“An organization can say, ‘Don’t try to get a bargain. Don’t play into that,’” Kirkpatrick says. “Ultimately, that [bargain-hunting] doesn’t create an environment where people think it’s fair, and want to stay at that organization.”

Photo courtesy of Hired.

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