New data fails to prove a gender gap in developer pay

A new report from Glassdoor suggests female software developers are paid less than men, but better data is needed before coming to conclusions

A new report released by the job site Glassdoor is being used to support the idea that there’s a gap in the pay that men and women receive for doing the same tech jobs. The data suggest that, at a number of the top tech companies, female software developers are paid less than their male counterparts for doing the same job. However, upon closer inspection of the data, it’s hard to draw any clear conclusions about a gender pay gap among software engineers.

Glassdoor’s report, titled The Gender Pay Gap Revealed in Tech, was based on salary data self-reported by developers at 25 large tech companies. It compared the median annual salaries for men and women with the same developer job titles. At first pass, the data do suggest a developer gender pay gap, with women being paid a lower median base salary than men with the same job title in 13 of the 21 jobs presented, with the difference ranging from $2,258 for Software Developers at Epic to a whopping $25,104 for Senior Software Engineers at Google.

While some of these numbers are indeed startling, here’s why it’s hard to really come to any firm conclusions about the degree of gender pay gap for developers.

  • The respondents were all self-selected. These data came from people who chose to go to the Glassdoor site and share their job, salary and gender information with the world. This is neither a complete survey of all employees at these companies, nor a randomly selected sample. Given the unscientific nature of it, it’s hard to extrapolate the findings to any general conclusions.
  • Work experience within job titles varies. Obviously, whether or not a gender pay gap exists, salary will always vary with experience. For each job title at each company, Glassdoor, presents the average number of years of experience for men and women, and it can vary quite a bit, even within job definition. For example, female Software Engineers at Facebook had a median salary almost $6,000 less than that for males, but the women averaged only 0.7 years of experience, compared to 3.2 for men. Could that pay difference be due to the experience difference? It’s possible, but we can’t tell from these data.
  • Education is not accounted for at all. As with experience, one’s education should also be expected to have an impact on salary, particularly for younger workers. The Glassdoor report doesn’t present any sort of data on education levels, so it’s not accounted for at all. Controlling for these other contributing factors can make a big difference. Last year, a Dice survey found that, after controlling for education, work experience and job title, there was no gender gap in pay among tech workers.

My point here isn’t that a gender gap doesn’t exist in the pay among software developers or tech workers, in general; I wouldn’t be surprised if it really does. Rather, I think it’s just hard to use these particular data to prove that claim. Instead, I think that they suggest the possibility that one exists, at least within some of the companies, but, ultimately, more data is needed.

Even if there really was no gender pay gap in tech, it seems clear that women in tech still have more hurdles than the men in other ways. Based on self-reported workforce demographics, women may have more trouble getting hired in the first place by these big tech companies; for example, females only make up 15% of tech workers at Facebook and Yahoo and 17% at Google. Women may also have a tougher time getting promoted than men, which can affect their pay, even without a gender gap in salaries.

Hopefully, more and better data will be forthcoming in the future to help us better answer the question of whether there's a gender pay gap among developers.

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