#EqualPayDay and the Value of Women’s Work

#EqualPayDay symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. This day is later in the year for African American women in the U.S. (August), and even later for Latina women (October). As the Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, today is an urgent reminder that despite all the progress we’ve made in closing the gender gap in tech, our alumnae will still earn only 80 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we got here. Trump’s cabinet is the most white and male in 35 years. It’s also one of the wealthiest in US history. Coincidence? Perhaps. But it’s also a telling example as to why the pay gap has been so persistent.

In the 1950s, computer programming was dominated by women. The wonderful movie Hidden Figures shows how women were considered literal “computers”, responsible for calculating the complex equations that put humans on the moon. Yet in the 1980s, the percentage of women graduating in computer science started to drop, and men began to outnumber women in the field. And a strange thing happened: as men entered computing, the salaries increased.

As it turns out, the opposite is true as well. As women takeover a male-dominated field, the pay drops. We see this across the income spectrum. IT managers (mostly men) earn 27 percent more than HR managers (mostly women). Janitor (mostly men) earn 22 percent more than maids (mostly women). Even with the same skills and education, women earn less.

What’s going on? Gender bias is clearly the culprit. Work done by women is valued less. Work done by men is tied to greater prestige, and thus higher pay. It’s no wonder so many women tell me they need to work harder than their male colleagues to achieve the same recognition.

This year marks Girls Who Code’s Five Year Anniversary, and by the end of the year, our programs will have taught over 40,000 girls computer science in all 50 states — that’s 4X the number of women who graduated last year with a degree in computer science. As our alumni begin entering the workforce, I’m thinking more and more about the workplaces and cultures they’ll be entering. Will they be workplaces that value their contributions?

The pay gap isn’t just about negotiating a better salary. It’s about addressing the social constructs that diminish women’s value in the first place. #EqualPayDay is sober reminder of the work that still remains. Together, we must do the hard work of questioning our own biases that deem women’s work less valuable than men’s. Only then will we build a future where our next generation of girls will prosper.