It’s a continuing disgrace that women workers rarely get paid the same as their male counterparts — something that’s as true of IT as any other sector. What strategies can female engineers and developers use to ensure they are paid what they deserve?
Network engineer picture from Shutterstock
That topic was one of several discussed during the Women In Flight panel which preceded Twitter’s TwitterFlight mobile development conference in San Francisco this week. During the panel, six prominent female engineers and coders touched on a wide range of issues relating to women participating in the professional tech community.
It’s a topic that’s rarely far from the headlines, evident in the recent discussion over Facebook and Apple offering to freeze eggs for female employees and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s ill-considered comments that equality was a matter of “karma” rather than something that needed to be addressed.
Consultant Patty McCord, who has previously worked for Netflix, Seagate, Borland and numerous other tech companies over a 30-year career, highlighted that information is the ultimate weapon when you’re seeking a raise.
“For everyone, data is your friend,” McCord said, adding that accepting interviews from recruiters was a good strategy to identify your current worth. “Before you say ‘no thanks’, be sure you say ‘how much?’ A great way to find out your market value is to interview. If somebody calls you with an interesting proposition, be sure to follow it up. You want to know what your market value is as you move forward in your career.”
There are two key points when you can negotiate a better salary, McCord noted: when you accept a new role and when annual compensation reviews come around. “You want to be prepared way before the process starts. Be able to say: I’ve been doing some research on what like me are paid. If you stay underpaid as a woman for 10 years, you can’t catch up. Your career is your career: companies don’t owe you a career. You’ve got to manage it.”
Having said that, the actual process of asking can still seem challenging. “Stepping into the room and asking for something you’re not even sure you deserve is daunting,” said Tracy Chou, lead software engineer at Pinterest. Her strategy? “A lot of confidence, a little bit of grace and a little bit of greed.”
“There are unfortunately fewer women in leadership positions who stay in core engineering,” said Nandini Ramani, vice president of engineering for Twitter and a veteran of Oracle and Sun. There have been so many times where I’ve thought maybe it would be easier if I switched [to a marketing or business development role]. I won’t always be the only woman at the table. The reality is the number of women who make it to CEOs from an engineering track are very few, if any.
“People just get tired of fighting it,” McCord agreed. “People get lonely. It is the ‘only woman in the room’ syndrome. I’ve done this for 30 years and I’ve seen it over and over again. Often it comes down to ‘I’m going to promote someone like me’. The decision makes are men and they promote men.”
“As you get higher in the engineering organisation, to move forward, the top people in core engineering have the most brilliant minds and the higher up you get the harder it is to move,” said . Sara Haider, lead Android engineer for Secret. “You have to have close relationships with the people around you and above you.”
Inequality isn’t going to disappear any time soon. “Even beyond not getting promoted, the median experience of being a woman in tech in engineering is much worse than being a man,” Chou noted.
It’s a challenging career path, but rarity can sometimes pay off. “The supply of women engineers is incredibly low, and demand is incredibly high,” said Jana Messerschmidt, vice president of Twitter’s platform team. “So use that leverage when you’re negotiating your salary.”
The ultimate rule for progress is a simple one, as McCord explained: “Work with really smart people on stuff that really matters and deliver great shit on time.” Doing that regardless of gender will improve the world for everyone. “Our business will be better if more women are involved. That’s just it.”
Disclosure: Angus Kidman travelled to San Francisco as a guest of Twitter.