Wage Gap Narrower for Women in IT

What is interesting about IT's wage gap by gender is not that is narrower than in most professions, but that it exists at all, says the chair of the NPCE.

Statistically, men make more money than women do for doing the same job. It's called the "wage gap" and it is considered one of the last bastions of gender inequality in the workplace.

The wage gap hit its all-time low in 1973, when women could be expected to earn 56.6 percent of what a man would earn for the same work, according to the U.S. Women's Bureau and the NCPE (National Committee on Pay Equity). This was a decade after the Equal Pay Act of 1963 made it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who held the same job and did the same work. (The percentage was 58 percent in 1963.)

In 2007, women could expect to be paid 80 cents on the dollar across all occupations, an improvement of less than half a penny per year, with numbers even further depressed among minorities: 64 cents per dollar for African-American women and 52 cents for Hispanic women.

IT professions faired better than most in 2007. Computer support specialists appeared closest to closing the wage gap, with women earning 87 percent of what men did in the same occupation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The numbers beat the national average in other categories, including computer and information systems managers and computer programmers (85 percent) and database administrators, computer scientists and systems analysts (84 percent).

Michele Leber, chair of the NCPE, a Washington organization that works to close the pay gap, noted that it was not uncommon to see less of a gap early on in women's careers.

"The disparity between men's and women's wages among full-time, year-round workers varies with industries and occupations that are predominantly male or female. I've seen figures [indicating] that in IT jobs there was a very small gap as they got into the workplace, but it widened over the course of their careers," Leber said.

This observation is backed up by a 2007 study by Dice, a career site for IT professionals, which found that women aged 18 to 24 earned nearly the same salary as men ($41,700 versus $41,722 respectively). In the next age bracket, ages 25 to 29, a 7.6 percent gap emerged ($55,480 versus $60,031 respectively), compared with gaps of at least 10 percent in all age groups over 30.

Leber noted that what is interesting about IT's narrow wage gap when compared with other professions is not that is better, but that it exists at all.

"What strikes us is why there should be any. It's a relatively new field and people come in at relatively [the] same education level," said Leber, who explained that there has been a historical bias in many older fields reflecting past attitudes that men worked to support a family and women worked for pin money.

"In IT, you may have started with a level playing field," Leber said.