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3 Facts You Don’t Know About #WomeninSTEM

You know that STEM jobs are heavily male-dominated, and also – generally speaking – high-paying, high-growth occupations. The lack of representation of women in science, technology, engineering, and math jobs is one reason why the gender pay gap persists. You've probably also heard that tech companies are trying various things to create a more diverse workforce, in terms of hiring and promoting women and people of color, from Slack's plan to build tools that catch inequities early on to Salesforce's $3 million commitment to closing its internal gender pay gap. But there's a lot you don't know about the history and current state of women in tech, in particular. Today, on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, let's take a look at some very nontrivial trivia.

You know that STEM jobs are heavily male-dominated, and also – generally speaking – high-paying, high-growth occupations. The lack of representation of women in science, technology, engineering, and math jobs is one reason why the gender pay gap persists. You’ve probably also heard that tech companies are trying various things to create a more diverse workforce, in terms of hiring and promoting women and people of color, from Slack’s plan to build tools that catch inequities early on to Salesforce’s $3 million commitment to closing its internal gender pay gap. But there’s a lot you don’t know about the history and current state of women in tech, in particular. Today, on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, let’s take a look at some very nontrivial trivia.

grace hopper 

(Photo Credit: Grace Hopper in 1952, by miss karen/Flickr)

1. The gender pay gap is smaller in tech, but still present – especially at the executive level.

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Whether we look at the uncontrolled data or the controlled data that compare men and women in similar jobs, the gender pay gap is smaller in tech than any other industry. However, even in tech, the gap persists. Managers see the smallest gap, with women earning 1.1 percent less than men in similar roles. Individual contributors are next, with women earning 1.2 percent less.

By the time you get to the executive level, however, the gap increases to 5.6 percent, meaning that women earn 5.6 percent less than men with the same job title. Women are also less likely to be represented at the executive level; 79 percent of executives are men, as opposed to 68 percent of individual contributors and 72 percent of managers.

In all, women make up only 30 percent of the tech industry, and still occupy many non-tech roles, a fact that explains the much larger uncontrolled pay gap.

2. Women pioneered computer science.

The first computer programmer, way back in 1843, was Ada Lovelace. Lovelace translated an article about Charles Babbage’s analytical engine, adding three pages of notes that contained the first theoretical descriptions of computer code.

Almost 100 years later, Grace Hopper led a team that created the precursor to COBOL – as well as popularizing the term “bug.” (The first one was an actually moth, which shorted out the Mark II when Hopper was a research fellow at Harvard.)

3. In fact, computer programming used to be seen as “women’s work.”

Programming is “just like planning a dinner,” Grace Hopper told Cosmopolitan in 1967. “You have to plan ahead and schedule everything so that it’s ready when you need it…. Women are ‘naturals’ at computer programming.”

In fact, Gender News says, software development was seen as “feminine” work, like filing or typing, while hardware was reserved for men. That gradually began changing as male computer programmers “sought to increase the prestige of their field, through creating professional associations, through erecting educational requirements for programming careers, and through discouraging the hiring of women. Increasingly, computer industry ad campaigns linked women staffers to human error and inefficiency.”

Still, the percentage of women who chose to study computer science grew faster than the percentage of men who did the same … until around 1984.

“What happened?” asked Steve Henn at NPR’s Planet Money. “We spent the past few weeks trying to answer this question, and there’s no clear, single answer. But here’s a good starting place: The share of women in computer science started falling at roughly the same moment when personal computers started showing up in U.S. homes in significant numbers.”

As messing around with computers became a “guy” thing, creating a geek cultural counterpoint to fixing cars or playing contact sports, women gradually got edged out of the story. With few public schools offering computer science classes, women who didn’t encounter much in the way of technology until college were less likely to opt for computer science as a major.

Hopefully, that’s changing. But as we strive to reach gender parity in tech, remember: women were here in the beginning.

Are you a woman who’s pursing an education in STEM? PayScale wants to help you achieve your dreams. Apply for The PayScale Scholarship: Women in STEM today for a shot at a $2,000 scholarship.

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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