08:06 AM
Susan Nunziata
Susan Nunziata

Gender Bias: Is Your IT Group Guilty?

When it comes to gender bias, a recent InformationWeek flash poll suggests that IT groups may be slightly less discriminatory than the tech industry in general. But there's still plenty of work to be done.

Gender diversity is a hot topic among tech companies these days, and the statistics are grim: Males dominate the global workforces at all the tech companies that have revealed their diversity data this year.

We wondered if the same was true for IT in general. Are IT organizations in major commercial enterprises, healthcare organizations, government agencies, and educational institutions as male-dominated as the tech companies from which they source their products?

The results of a recent InformationWeek flash poll might lead us to believe that IT organizations across industry verticals are less discriminatory when it comes to gender than their tech-only counterparts.

More than 3,000 of you responded to our flash poll, Gender Discrimination IT, between July 1 and August 7, 2014. In response to the question "Do you believe you've ever witnessed gender discrimination in IT?" more than half of you said you have either witnessed it or been a victim of it. Just under half (48.75%) said no, indicating you've not witnessed gender discrimination in IT.

Table 1: Do you believe you've ever witnessed gender discrimination in IT?

Response % Respondents
Yes, I've seen it 34.53%
Yes, and I've been a victim of it 16.72%
Source: InformationWeek Flash Poll, "Gender Discrimination in IT," June 1-August 7, 2014; 3,235 respondents.

As with all forms of discrimination, gender bias can be blatant or it can be subtle. So while those respondents who say they've never witnessed it may be fortunate enough to work for truly enlightened companies, it's also possible that the sexism was so de facto that they didn't even recognize it. Likewise, those who say they have witnessed or experienced gender discrimination may have in fact been harmed by some insidious displays of gender bias, without experiencing behavior that egregious enough to prompt legal action (more on that later).

One blatant -- and illegal -- form of gender discrimination is pay disparity. Unless you're sharing your paystubs with your co-workers, you may not even be aware that unequal pay for equal work exists at your organization.

[Help equalize the tech gender gap by encouraging young women's' interest in STEM. Here are 12 great resources: 12 STEM Resources For Young Women.]

Salary disparity is a very real fact of life, however, for many women in IT. According to the InformationWeek 2014 US IT Salary Survey, the median total compensation for a female IT staffer is $81,000. For male counterparts it's $94,000, a difference of $13,000. That's a significant gap.

That pay gap is echoed in compensation for managers, with median total compensation for men at $122,000, versus $110,000 for women. (If you're looking to increase your earnings in IT, check out these negotiating tactics from Joan C. Williams, distinguished professor and founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law at University of California's Hastings College of the Law.)

Perhaps even more indicative of the gender gap in IT is the difference in the number of men and women responding to our 2014 IT Salary Survey. Nearly nine out of 10 (87%) of the 5,717 IT managers and 85% of the 5,945 IT staff respondents were male.

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All you have to do is take a head count at any tech industry conference to get an informal idea of the male/female composition of the average IT department. The salary survey results, as well as recent diversity reports from major tech companies, serve to support what we already know anecdotally: This industry is male-dominated.

Table 2: Tech company worldwide workforces by gender

Company Male Female
eBay 58% 42%
Facebook 69% 31%
Google 70% 30%
LinkedIn 61% 39%
Pinterest 60% 40%
Salesforce 71% 29%
Twitter 70% 30%
VMWare 78% 22%
Yahoo 62% 37%
Sources: Company reports, 2014.

There are a number of US laws designed to prevent gender bias (and other forms of workplace discrimination), all of which are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. These laws include:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. The law also makes it illegal to retaliate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. The law also requires that employers reasonably accommodate applicants' and employees' sincerely held religious practices, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer's business.
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which amended Title VII to make it illegal to discriminate against a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. The law also makes it illegal to retaliate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963, which makes it illegal to pay different wages to men and women if they perform equal work in the same workplace. The law also makes it illegal to retaliate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

However, sexism can take many forms in the workplace. Some may not be legally actionable but still serve to undermine women's potential to advance.

Here are just a few examples:

  • The only woman in a meeting is expected to be the default note-taker.
  • A woman is asked about child care plans during a job interview, a question that's rarely raised with male candidates.
  • A woman is deprived of the chance to lead a major project because she's seen as a "maternity risk."
  • A woman is accused of "emotional" behavior when the same behavior in her male colleague is considered "passionate" or simply "angry."
  • A woman's ideas voiced in a meeting are ignored or dismissed, only to be repeated by a male colleague a short time later to wild acclaim.

If you can look at the list above and honestly tell us that you've never seen any of these things happen in your workplace, congratulations! Please tell us where you work and how we can all get jobs there. But if you are already thinking up 12 more examples, share them with us. Exposing these insidious forms of discrimination is a first step toward recovery.

Technology is rising in importance in most companies, but is the IT department's importance and reputation also rising? InformationWeek is conducting a survey to determine how IT is perceived in the enterprise. Take the IT Perception Survey today and be eligible to win a prize. Survey ends Aug. 15.

Susan Nunziata leads the site's content team and contributors to guide topics, direct strategies, and pursue new ideas, all in the interest of sharing practicable insights with our community.Nunziata was most recently Director of Editorial for, a UBM ... View Full Bio
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