This year, I missed Equal Pay Day. It’s hard for me to admit this, especially since it’s often my job to pay attention to issues of gender equity in the workplace. But, in 2022, Equal Pay Day — the day that marks how far into the new year the average woman must work to match what her male counterparts made the year before — fell earlier than usual, on March 15.
This should have been a good sign. Last year, women made 82 cents to the dollar, and this year they made 83 cents to the dollar. However, you won’t catch me celebrating. Especially once you dig deeper: Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, which landed in August in 2021, but will be pushed to September this year, and Latinx Women’s Equal Pay Day, which landed in September in 2021, now won’t happen until December.
This issue is weighing on me heavier than usual when reflecting on Women’s History Month, which gives those in power the opportunity to share empty platitudes about the importance of women’s contributions to society, and vague promises for a more equitable future, instead of meaningful change.
Promises don’t pay our bills. The numbers on the wage gap are proof that we still have a long way to go — and for Black and Latinx women, things are getting worse.
The reasons for the wage gap are complex and rooted in systemic racism and sexism, and so the solutions must be structural and codified in our laws. However, as we wait for the government to make moves, there’s one thing that I know will help: we need more women in tech. Women who pursue a career in tech are not just making more money and experiencing an improved quality of life. They’re also preparing themselves for the labor force of the future, and shaping the culture we live in.
Tech jobs are among the fastest-growing occupations in the country, and we’re expected to add more than half a million jobs by 2029. And, importantly, these jobs pay: STEM jobs pay 26% more than other careers. In 2018, the median wage in tech was $88,240, more than double the median national wage of $39,810.
I’ll offer another statistic: While the wage gap for Black women and Latinx women compared to white men is 58 cents to the dollar and 49 cents to the dollar respectively, in the tech industry, they make closer to 90 cents to the dollar. While that’s a far cry from parity, it is a step closer to where we need to be.
On top of that, the tech industry is undoubtedly powerful. Its impact touches nearly every aspect of our lives, from healthcare, to voting, to security. Having more women, and especially more women of color, in all levels of the tech industry — from entry-level to the C-Suite — could shift priorities to better serve our increasingly diverse world.
Despite these advantages, women still hold only 26% of computing jobs, and Black and Latinx women make up only 5.3% of all computing jobs.
So, how do we get more women of color in tech?
First, we need to dispel the myth that girls and young women aren’t interested in computer science. The half a million students that my organization, Girls Who Code, has served in the last 10 years alone very much prove otherwise. Our students are also earning computer science and related degrees at seven times the national average, and have over 100,000 college-and-career-aged alumni.
They’re already putting in the work, and are ready to work. However, they need to get hired. Students from historically underrepresented groups make up half of the Girls Who Code community. They’re the embodiment of bravery and resilience, but rarely have the same career opportunities as others, and are often overlooked by top companies.
We need recruiters to set aside their rigid criteria — prioritizing white, cis men from Ivy League institutions — and broaden their idea of what makes a great candidate, considering how access to a four-year education is often reserved for the wealthy and privileged. Companies that look beyond GPA and test scores, and at candidates from community colleges and state schools, can open themselves up to an entire new pool of qualified and promising talent.
However, it’s not enough for companies to hire women and fill diversity quotas. Especially if they encounter a toxic “tech bro” culture when they get there. Our recent study found that half of women in tech roles leave by the age of 35, many of them because they felt their workplace was inhospitable to women or they lacked female role models.
While no company is the same, one thing is certain: All women want to feel valued and respected at work, and feel free to live healthy lives outside of the office. Offices must implement mentorship programs to help support entry-level workers. They need to institute zero-tolerance policies on sexist and racist language and behavior. Policies like paid family leave, caregiving leave and flexible hours are essential. Women should be paid fairly, promoted to leadership and given a meaningful voice. Culture is created by those empowered to be the loudest voice in the room, and so we must change who’s in the room.
This is the hardest change we need to make, and the one that doesn’t seem to have a manual. I can’t, in good conscience, encourage young women to enter the tech workforce unless I know they will thrive once they are there. That’s why we ask companies we work with to look at their own practices and interrogate what they are doing to alienate and retain diverse talent. Introspection is hard work and requires companies to acknowledge ways leadership inevitably perpetuates white supremacy and patriarchy. But the work is necessary and worth it.
I remain steadfast in our mission to improve the lives of women, and especially Black and brown women, by closing the gender gap in tech. I’m inspired every day by the students in the Girls Who Code community, who are building successful careers, making their own money, supporting their families, buying their first homes, traveling the world — while also using their skills to make the change they want to see in the world. If we continue to educate them, support them, hire them and elevate them, we can get closer to a future where we close the wage gap for good.
Tarika Barrett is the CEO of Girls Who Code.