Has tech blown chance to narrow pay gap?

From the pages of In Business magazine.

This was going to be a column about the pay gap between men and women, and why the real solution should be linked to convincing more young women to pursue careers in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math. I was going to point out that if we’re going to close that gap, which is roughly 23 cents on every $1 that men make (if you believe the advocates), companies operating in STEM would have to diversify because they have the highest-paying occupations and are male dominated.

But I’ve read with great dismay media reports about how the technology industry has been more of a frat house — with a hostile and unwelcoming environment for women — than a house of enlightenment. A decade ago, I began writing stories about how STEM-based industries needed to convince more women and minorities to pursue technology careers, not only to diversify but also in order to grow. Silly me — I thought an industry full of young, tech-savvy entrepreneurs would “get it.”

Sadly, it hasn’t, which might help explain why Google recently turned to Wall Street and womanhood for its new CFO, Ruth Porat. Given her reputation at Morgan Stanley, there’s obviously more to it than that, but maybe this can be the continuation of a cultural change at a leading tech giant whose engineering workforce is only 17% female and which, commendably, has launched a program to address cultural biases.



Meanwhile, younger women might be taking matters into their own hands. Tom Koulopoulos, co-author of The Gen Z Effect: The Six Forces Shaping the Future of Business, says women are starting to balance out the ranks of business schools. That’s true of the UW-Madison School of Business, where women now comprise 42.3% of enrollment.

The reality is that many young people view STEM as a dead-end street. “When we interviewed Gen Z specifically, the vast majority of them, well over 70%, believe that they will start their own enterprise,” Koulopoulos said. “To do that, they need business skills, and they are very intent on gaining those skills.”

I’m no longer certain the lack of interest in STEM is a bad thing, even with computing jobs expected to double by 2020. Other societies will out-innovate us in some areas, but as Koulopoulos notes, “we manage the entrepreneurial process better than anyone else.” With their growing interest in creating new businesses, young women will set their own pay scales.

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