Leaving a Mark

One day in Mrs. Campbell's seventh-grade English class, a pail of soapy water with a sponge was being passed up and down the rows of desks so that we students could clean our cruddy desktops. (Note to younger readers: I mean the tops of our desks. This was 40 years ago.) Mrs. Campbell told us to stop talking during this process and take out our notebooks (the kind with paper that you write in). As I was taking out my notebook, I turned around to check on the progress of the approaching pail. Mrs. Campbell thought I was talking to the girl behind me, so she told me to come to the front of the class.

I told her that I wasn't talking, but to no avail. She took a piece of chalk and drew a small circle on the blackboard and told me to stick my nose in it. Having been raised to never question authority, I did as I was told. So there I was, slightly bent over because of where Mrs. Campbell had drawn the little circle, with my nose against the blackboard.

Let's just say it left a mark. If there's one thing I haven't tolerated well since that day, it's injustice.

So last week, as I was reading some of the data that yielded the special report on our 2005 Salary Survey in this week's issue, I was bothered by the difference between the average total compensation for male and female IT professionals. For men, the figure is $89,437; for women, it's $80,528. Same jobs. But women are paid about 90 cents for every dollar that men are paid.

That there's a gender wage gap is, of course, news to no one. Nor is it news that the gap exists in the IT profession. A reluctance among women to advance their careers by means of relocation (primarily stemming from their partners' career aspirations) has long been cited as a major reason for the compensation disparity. I agree that's a factor.

But there has to be more to it than that. It's widely held that men work more hours than women do, because of family considerations, but that's not what our survey found. While the survey results show that women value things such as paid time off and a better work/life balance more than men do, the mean number of hours they work is statistically equal. So why the disparity?

Nancy Newkirk, corporate IT director at Boston-based International Data Group, Computerworld's parent company, wonders whether women negotiate as well as men do and whether women underestimate their worth. "When I'm hiring, I see resumes all the time from men who are really underqualified," she says. "I can tell you honestly, I don't think I see women who submit a resume for a job they aren't qualified for."

Whatever the reasons, we shouldn't be content with the status quo. True, IT professionals fare better than college graduates in general. According to research conducted earlier this year by the American Association of University Women, college-educated women earn only 72 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts.

But how much injustice is acceptable? For 40 years, I've wished I'd picked up the piece of chalk and drawn a big "N" just to the left of that little circle, crossed my arms and looked Mrs. Campbell straight in the eye.

No injustice is acceptable. Let that be the mark left on society by this generation of IT professionals.

Don Tennant

Don Tennant is editor in chief of Computerworld. You can contact him at don_tennant@computerworld.com.

Special Report

2005 Salary Survey

Stories in this report:


Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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