For Young Women in Tech, The Challenge Is Staying
If you are a young woman in tech, your biggest career challenges usually aren't seemingly impossible code bugs, staying abreast of the latest technology or landing your first job. If you work in tech and manage to get yourself a good job, the biggest challenge may be finding a work environment where you feel like part of the team, valued equally with the guys. You know there is a gender pay gap out there, even in the supposed meritocracy of tech, and you know that it gets worse as people move into more senior roles, which you will do during your career. So how do you make sure you get paid fairly and treated equally?
Do good work. It should go without saying that the first thing you have to do is to do good work on your projects and to be a good colleague. Do focus on career development, but in the context of being a great employee whom the organization wants to retain.
Transparency helps you. Transparency is every woman's best friend at work, because everything starts with knowing where you stand in relation to everyone else. That means you have to do some research on what your job at your level pays in your locale. Payscale helps here, of course, as may your college or school's career center, if they have data in your field. Get online and find every data point you can about your job family and level. The very best source are two or three people recently hired to do your job at organizations other than your own in the same location. Be sure to consider total compensation: a higher salary might be offset by lower retirement contributions or lesser benefits. And make sure that when you ask people about the workplace, you ask not just about salary but about overall treatment of employees.
Work colleagues help. Of course, you want to be paid fairly and treated equally at your own place of employment, no matter what people in comparable jobs are paid next door. That information can be hard to find when you are just starting out, as "hey, what do you get paid here?" and "so can people really take maternity leaves without being penalized?" isn't the way to make new friends at work. So you need to work there a while and identify the right person to ask in the organization. That might be someone in Human Resources, or it might be a sympathetic senior colleague, or maybe your manager. You want to be able to go to that person and ask fact-based questions: "I began here XX months ago. I've found out that the salary range for this job in this area is [range]. Am I being paid at the same point in the range as [male colleague]?" Notice you are not asking how much someone else is paid, which is often socially taboo even when not forbidden in your workplace.
Work allies help. As you spend more time at your job, you will learn who your allies are: who supports women in the workplace, who supports sending employees to women in tech conferences, who takes questions about pay equity seriously. When you identify those people, ask if you may meet with them over coffee, and ask their advice about your career. Don't make your first conversation about how you're paid relative to male peers; get a sense of the person one-on-one first. And do broaden the conversation so that you address the many ways workplaces can support women and men equally: family leave (not just maternity leave), for aging or ill relatives as well as newborns; access to tech development and personal development resources, including coaches; management training.
People at other organizations help, especially early on. Until you have been at your workplace a while, your best source of information about how you are treated relative to others will be people outside your organization. Go to meetups in your area in your field; join the local branch of your professional organization. Organizations like the American Association of University Women and Anita Borg Institute often have local chapters. The younger women at these meetings will have the most current policy, salary, and benefits information, and the more senior women will often have the best advice for how to negotiate for a raise and how to make sure you stay compensated appropriately.
Don't feel bad about wanting to be treated equally, and wanting to know that you are. Women are more embarrassed to talk about policies, salaries and benefits, and to negotiate than men are. It matters more to women than to men to be liked and not to be perceived as aggressive, and, to be fair, women are socially and professionally penalized for the same behavior men routinely adopt. That attitude hurts both women's careers and women's finances. Get your data, get the best advice you can, and ask for what you deserve. If you don't get it, do good work and then get a competitive job offer. Talent is hard to find, and you should get paid fairly for yours.
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Anne Krook is the author of "Now What Do I Say?": Practical Workplace Advice for Younger Women, available from Amazon and as an iBook. Find her at www.annekrook.com.