You Can’t Close the Gender Gap in Science and Tech Without Equal Pay

On Equal Pay Day, let’s take stock of the wage gap in STEM fields.

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Apr 4 2017, 5:49pm

Image: Argonne National Laboratory/Wikimedia Commons

We're in the midst of a push from governments and nonprofits alike to get more women in science, from preschool to the postgraduate level. There are still significantly fewer of us in research, engineering, tech, and medicine than our male counterparts (this goes for science and tech journalism, too). And the ones in the field report being less satisfied.

But expecting women to join STEM fields—including science, technology, engineering and mathematics—without the promise of equal pay will not even out the playing field. Nor will it support better research and science. The disparities in developed countries like the US and Canada are stark.

Women earn nearly one-third less than men within a year of completing a PhD in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics, according an analysis of 1,200 US grads reported in Nature. This has a lot to do with the structures and biases that work against women who have families: married women with children earned less than men. Married men with children, on the other hand, saw no disadvantage in earnings.

In the engineering field, American women are paid 82 percent as much as their male counterparts, an average of $65,000 for women and $79,000 for men in 2014, according to the American Association of University Women. There were also discrepancies within the engineering field: in civil engineering, for example, women are paid 88 percent as much as men, and in mechanical engineering, women are paid 90 percent as much as men.

Within medicine, women doctors were paid an average of $20,000 less than men in the US. That bias works against physicians, but also their patients: women tend to be taken less seriously in clinical settings when they complain of pain and other health problems.

Read More: More and More Science Grads Are Women. So Why Do So Few Make It to the Top?

And tech companies, even ones that tout their favorable parental leave programs and women's health policies, still haven't figured out equal pay either. In computing and computer science, women were paid 87 percent as much as their male counterparts. That includes coders, developers, systems analysts, and IT support.

While these gender inequities impact all women in science, they place an even heavier burden on women of color who are often underrepresented in the STEM fields. Black women, Latina women and Indigenous women, especially, earn less than white and Asian American women, according to a study in the Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences.

Getting more women in STEM fields means closing the gender pay gap. And the quicker that happens, the better chance we have of supporting innovation and progress through the people who are best equipped to create them.

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