Guest opinion: Huge income 'gender gap' — a conspiracy or just socioeconomics?


The blockbuster headline news out of this year's "State of the Valley" conference and detailed "Index" report was that the so-called "gender gap" in pay for men and women is bigger as they obtain advanced degrees.

But why?

That lingering question hung around well after the early February conference. Details are outlined in the report on median incomes (not average) available online at But a nutshell version is that men with advanced graduate degrees have median annual incomes of $123,000 compared with about $73,000 for women with such degrees.

It's almost as bad for bachelor's degrees, with men receiving $90,000 compared with $54,000 for women, according to the Index.

On surface, such a gap might be expected to raise eyebrows, hackles, even anger. It's far higher than in other regions — where median incomes are generally smaller anyway. And there is much yet to be learned about the causes and possible remedial steps to narrow the gap.

Yet the Index scrupulously avoids proposing "solutions," sticking to basic details of what's happening economically in the Valley — which wraps around the South Bay and extends up the San Francisco Peninsula even unto The City itself.

Joint Venture President and CEO Russell Hancock repeatedly underscores the fact-based nature of the Index and conference. Yet he is willing to discuss the implications of the findings as an individual, which we did recently over a lunch in Palo Alto, where he resides.

First, he noted, the existence of a gender gap in pay is a longstanding, well-known fact. The news this year is the size and relation to advanced degrees.

"This is huge; this is really huge," he said of the size of the gap, which caught him and his consultants by surprise.

"I didn't see that coming," he said. The data "does not say that if you have a man and woman working side by side, that the man is making more. That's not what it says. It's saying 'across the region.'

"Everybody's first question is, 'What's going on here? Is there a conspiracy?' Maybe there is. Maybe there's a terrible conspiracy out there, but that's not what the data are saying. We have no basis to conclude that — on the basis of the data.

"What we think is more plausible is that there are more things going on here, and that women are not electing to enter into the more highly paying sectors. And they probably have their reasons. One reason would be to enter and exit, the so-called 'mommy track.'

"Women are exiting for children, and when they want to enter back in they find that they can't enter at the same level, or they have to start over. Meanwhile, men have continuously climbed the ladder. So that's there. That's straightforward. We know that.

"A second factor is women aren't going into the same fields. And we do have data on that. Men are going into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and these other high-paying things. Women are going into other areas.

"There's always been a gender gap in the sciences, in computers, coders, and we've seen women going into areas that are not as managerial, are not as tech-heavy.

"Which leads to a third thing, which is cultural," where things get shaky in terms of hard data. "I'm not speaking from the standpoint of data. We would actually have to do studies. We would have to do surveys."

But those who study culture and gender observe that traits that are perceived in men as strong and decisive are interpreted as something else in women executives and managers, and women tend to avoid those tracks, also called a "pipeline" to higher-level positions.

"People are working on the pipeline. A lot of people will say we have a pipeline issue. We need to channel more women into higher-paying fields. They need to be going into science and math. They need to be going into business school and take the manager track."

Yet that's a generations-long process, as long, perhaps, as raising children.

"What you can't overcome is biology. If women are family minded. ... Yet even there society is evolving. The nature of work is changing. You really can work from home. You really do juggle."

One factor is part-time work, which many women see as an answer to balancing one's life, Hancock noted. And therein "lies the conspiracy," as such jobs often lack benefits that are reported as income, and because "part-time often means working full time for half-pay."

To make the gap worse, "There are talent wars at the high end. That's what we are generating in Silicon Valley: We are generating high-end jobs. We used to generate middle jobs, lots of mid-range professional jobs: guys who worked at Lockheed, lived in tract houses in Sunnyvale and mowed their own lawns, right?

"Now we have an economy that's not creating those jobs. It's just creating jobs for entrepreneurs and VCs, finance people and scientists, coders, architects, all of that. And these are all starting six-figures and going up and getting into bidding wars because there is less talent, and it's men filling those jobs.

"And we're also skewed at the low end. Those wages have been stagnant," for men and women.

"The 'conspiracy' I think is powerful market forces. You have two things happening. One is that companies aren't creating jobs locally. They're creating jobs globally for very sensible reasons, and you can't overcome those forces. It just makes perfect sense, fiduciary and otherwise.

"A second thing is we've eliminated so many jobs. Technology really has displaced most support positions. ... This is the unsupported economy."

This echoes decades later with Kurt Vonnegut's "Player Piano" vision of a high-tech world where computers have displaced skilled machinists making perfect bolts, leaving the machinists to fill potholes. Only today those are high-tech bolts.

Former Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson can be emailed at He also writes periodic blogs at

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18 people like this
Posted by Bad Data, Bad Decisions
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 17, 2015 at 9:20 am

The data reported in the Index was directly lifted from Census Bureau data, with little or no modification.

This data is raw data, it is not normalized for ANYTHING. For example, one item that is left out of this article is years of experience. The gender gap data used by Silicon Valley Index is not even normalized for years of experience. If a man works 20 years in a machine shop, and a woman works 1 year, there is a pay gap. duh.

So what we are left with is junk data. Not normalized for experience, industry, type of job, etc. as pointed out above.

What we really need is paired data with similar jobs, years of experience, and similar industries. This will help pinpoint what problems are real, and where they are.

The Gender gap is a real problem, but bad reporting on it doesn't help - it either sensationalizes the wrong issue, or ignores underlying problems. In the end people lose confidence in the reporting and start to disbelieve the problem.

Yet, it is a problem that is to big and too important to be handled so badly - when real analysis would be so revealing.

28 people like this
Posted by It Exists
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2015 at 4:10 pm

A few years ago, I had been employed in my position at a Silicon Valley company for almost three years when I recommended a male friend for a lesser-paying position at the same company.

He got the job, but his starting pay was 15% higher than mine! I had more experience, a higher position, and far more education--a master's degree vs his BA. After several weeks of watching this guy get more pay for less responsibility and fewer hours, I talked toy supervisor about either giving me more pay or letting me work less.

I was told I was not being a team player. Insulted, I started looking for a new job immediately--I actually took my lunch so I could start the process.

Yet, two weeks later, whenI gave my notice, my supervisor was shocked and said he didn't think I had taken his comments to heart! But really, he gave me a good barometer of what to expect from his company in future, so I moved somewhere where my hard work and long hours were appreciated and rewarded, not taken advantage of!

9 people like this
Posted by Does-Silicon-Valley-Gender-Inequality-Exist?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2015 at 2:31 pm

When the topic of gender inequity appears in the media, stories like the one posted by “It Exists” appear frequently, with enough information to seem credible, and not enough information to know what really went on. There are always details that seem incongruous, as posted.

For instance, the suggestion that the job her male friend got was supposed to be a lower-paying job. Most companies are pretty tight-lipped about their salaries, but some do post salary ranges. So, it’s possible that the top end of the range for that job overlapped the bottom end of her job. Therefore, how did she come to know just how much he made?

And then there is the very elusive-to-pin-down issue of employee stock options. Were they offered to everyone? Was there a significant difference in the number of shares offer to our female poster, and her friend? Given that people who luck out and are able to eventually cash in their shares, this additional income needs to be included in the total compensation package for each person. There was no mention of ESOPS in her story.

Experience vs Education—some companies will often raise the bar for job applicants by claiming that an MS or x-years of experience is a requirement. Well, just how value is 2 years of sitting in class to receive an Mx vs five+years of working in the industry? If there is significant training involved, and someone comes along with less formal education, but has already working in the industry so that less training is involved to bring that person on-board, then there might be every reason to want to off that job applicant more money in order to secure his services. There was no mention of prior experience that might have justified his salary.

Hours work—the comment about different hours seems a little odd, since no two jobs are the same. Additionally, time management is different for different people. She provided no insight into the nature of the jobs, and why she spent more tie on-site than he did.

Moving on to the bigger picture--There are other gender-related performance issues that are rarely discussed. Take hours actually worked, for instance. Most companies offer a 40-hour week to “exempt” (yearly salary vs hourly salary) employees. While the engineers generally work 50-70 hour weeks, the sales and marketing departments are rarely around when the clock is showing “overtime”. So, it would be very interesting if we could actually determine the number of actual hours worked by women, and men, to see if there is any disparity between the two genders.

Maternity leave is another issue that doubtless results in some pay disparities. Has anyone ever seen a study of the time lost to a company when a woman has a child? And let’s not forget that there are many advocates for paid maternity leave. Difficult to understand how men are not going to feel that they are underpaid when women are not on-site, having children, and not contributing to the companies bottom line—yet drawing a salary, and having their company insurance pay for their medical bills.

There are just too many variables in this “equation” that can not be determined. The Silicon Valley Index does itself no credit to continue dispensing this sort of half-axed study that looks at a few variables badly—and purports to be shedding insight some sort of inequality cabal that exists here in the Silicon Valley.

21 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 18, 2015 at 2:52 pm

It exists.

Talk to any woman who's worked or is still working and she'll tell you.

Compare the number of women speaking at conferences with a few decades back and you'll see the decline.

Compare the number who are denied higher-level titles even though guys with less experience are getting the titles.

One of my "open-minded" male colleagues used to pride himself on hiring more women because 1) he could get them for less money, 2) they'd work harder and c) they'd be more grateful for the opportunity.

17 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 18, 2015 at 2:54 pm


Not every woman has or wants children even though that's a commonly held belief and rationalization for holding women back.

2 people like this
Posted by Does-Silicon-Valley-Gender-Inequality-Exist?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2015 at 4:10 pm

> Not every woman has or wants children

Well, maybe not. But here are some US Govenment stats on that issue--

Average age of US women giving birth the first time:
Web Link

US Women: 25.6 years of age

Fertility of Women in US (2012):
Web Link

59% of US women have had at least one child (ages 15-50)--

In June 2012, 75.4 million women in the United States were aged 15 to 50, and 59 percent of them were mothers (see Table 1). Of all women aged 15 to 50, 17.2 percent had one child, 23.1 percent had two children, and 18.5 percent had three or more children.

With the odds that a woman will have a child between the ages of 15 and 50 years being 60% and that the first child likely to be around her 25th birthday, it’s difficult for companies not to take note of this well-established statistic, and plan accordingly.

16 people like this
Posted by It Exists
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2015 at 4:44 pm

FYI: Both of us were salaried. His job in marketing required a BA or BS, two years' experience. My job, in R&D, required a master's and at least three years' experience ( as well as long work hours). Ironically, my friend is older than me. Neither of us had families at the time ( BTW, I only took two weeks of unpaid maternity leave recently). My friend very proudly showed me his paycheck, at the time, because he said it was the most money he had ever made in one pay period.

Satisfied, DSVGIE??

6 people like this
Posted by Does-Silicon-Valley-Gender-Inequality-Exist?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2015 at 4:47 pm

Both of these claims are offered with absolutely no substantiating evidence—

> Compare the number of women speaking at conferences with a
> few decades back and you'll see the decline.

> Compare the number who are denied higher-level titles even
> though guys with less experience are getting the titles.

A lot of emotion here—but nothing to back up the allegations.

22 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 18, 2015 at 5:53 pm

I went to engineering college in the 1970s. At that time, women made up around 30% of engineering college graduates. Today, the number of women studying engineering is less than half of what it was back then. Why the difference? One popular theory is that the engineering workplace has gotten far more hostile towards women over the last 30 years and that is discouraging women from choosing this profession. In the 1970s, most engineers were hired by established companies like IBM and HP and those companies had professional managers that protected the rights of their employees and hard working employees could thrive.

Today, as layoffs and startups have become the norm, employees have to be far more aggressive and proactive to protect and advance their careers. Aggressive men are called "leaders" and other employees rally around them. Aggressive women are called "bitches" and are shunned by coworkers. Why would female college students choose to study engineering when other careers like teaching or nursing offer a less hostile working environment?

The Ellen Pao case was complicated, but it does document many of these issues. What can we do about it? Yes, we do need to encourage more women to study engineering, but we also have to make the workplace more welcoming to women.

12 people like this
Posted by Just Drivel
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 19, 2015 at 8:30 am

This piece is just a bunch of worthless, offensive drivel. I really wonder why the Weekly printed it at all. If you want to know about the gender gap, there's plenty out there, I won't dignify this drivel by giving my experience as a woman in Silicon Valley. I find it entirely offensive that the Weekly has gone this route, and yes written by a white male. Why doesn't the author do his next piece on questioning climate change or childhood vaccinations. REALLY!

13 people like this
Posted by Abby boyd
a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 19, 2015 at 8:38 am

Pay scales are not just about advancement in a job.

When I worked on pay equity years ago I found how institutionalized it I is. Apprentice programs were available for male dominated jobs, tool and uniform also. Men's jobs had fewer steps to top pay and men were hired at higher pay steps even when women had more experience. Union stewards did not sign up women in male dominated jobs and then women had less recourse when harassed.

To address the point of women leaving work to raise children, if the husband has higher pay it makes sense for a couple to have the lower paid women take time off not the higher paid man. This is a couple choice tied to men's higher wages. And with single parent families, who is taking care of those kids? How often is the father the custodial parent? With a lower wage is the woman in position to pay enough child support to allow the father this choice?
Women's lack of equal pay drives many family compromises that serve to keep women from sharing equally in workplace compensation and men from participating in family life.

15 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 19, 2015 at 12:02 pm

Methinks DSVGIE protests too much.

Every article published about this puts the wage gap at $0.76-$0.78 for women vs male pay. There's no way to dispute the numbers.

We're talking about wage inequality and equal opportunity here in Silicon Valley for professional jobs yet the fertility figures cited are national. Somehow I doubt there are many 15-year-olds or even 18-year-olds with advanced degrees applying to companies here.

9 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 19, 2015 at 12:54 pm

I know several companies that actively seek to promote women here in the valley. The really striking problem is the age discrimination that is blatant here. Also, if you have too many dependents and are middle-aged (not elderly) then they may lay you off despite a fantastic work history, merely to cut corporate costs and to hire a young single male engineer. I speak of old time Silicon Valley, not Facebook, Google, Linked In - those seem to be entirely different although I doubt they hire many middle-aged workers in the first place....

11 people like this
Posted by Ed
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 19, 2015 at 9:31 pm

Oh, gender discrimination is very real. I'm male, but I have no question of how real it is when I consider the way ENOUGH men have talked about and/or treated woman over the years I've been employed that there is a bias.

Some commenters have rightly pointed out that the data in this particular article is a poor basis from which to draw conclusions. I agree.

But there is plenty of other evidence, and not just anecdotal. For example: Web Link

8 people like this
Posted by Frustrated
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 20, 2015 at 11:20 am

Why do so-called "leaders" get to pontificate in public fora about situations about which they know little, when they obviously are so unaware of the vast body of research related to understanding this situation?

No wonder we are led to the conclusion that white men are listened to, regardless of whether or not they have to say anything useful!

8 people like this
Posted by Check This Out
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 20, 2015 at 11:36 am

To all the women who've experienced pay discrimation, and yes it DOES exist. I've seen it in spades at my own high tech company that has been bringing in young males as Directors, sometimes without any direct reports. They're just Directors for the pay! Meanwhile women, especially older senior women, are passed over, ignored, denied bonuses and raises, and sometimes explicitly driven out of groups for being "not a team player".

Anyway, gals, here it is: Web Link

8 people like this
Posted by MoreEvidence
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 20, 2015 at 11:48 am

There is compelling research (The John-Jennifer study is famous). There is an increasing number of stories from F2M transgenders, like the one who was told that his research is "better than your sister's." Ha ha, speaking of his own work under a female name. There are also anecdotal reports from women who moonlight their considerable technical skills online, using a male persona. They find that the respect, gratitude, and pay they receive in this role are unprecedented, compared to what they experience in "real life" professional interactions.

It's real, bubba, it's real.

10 people like this
Posted by Ubiquitous
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 20, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Any woman who's worked for a decade or more can tell you dozens of stories about salary differentials, offhand comments, and outright illegal questions about marital or maternity plans. For too many women, careers go through two phases. In the first, employers assume that she can't be given too much responsibility because she's probably just going to have a baby. In the second, which kicks in around age 40, she is too old for any position that requires intelligence, creativity, or energy.

I actually had an interviewer tell me once that he didn't want to hire a woman because the last time he'd done so, she and her boyfriend had run off to Seattle. Well, if that's your concern, aren't you afraid to hire a man because he might run off to Seattle?

As for kids: everyone starts off with two parents, but somehow only women are prospectively penalized by employers. Somehow, the idea of a family-friendly work environment doesn't get much traction in most places. Not to overlook the fact that many women choose not to marry/have kids. My own cohort of females with MBAs from Stanford includes quite a few without partners/kids -- anecdotal evidence, of course, but their careers have stagnated just as much as the rest of ours.

1 person likes this
Posted by Do your fair share. Be a MAN.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 20, 2015 at 2:29 pm

Last time I looked, it took a man AND a woman to make a family. So why is it the women are being penalized for time taken for responsible parenthood? Gentlemen, it's time to BE a MAN and do your fair share of WORK at the office and at home.

(BTW, I realize some percentage of you fellows do try hard to be fair, but it is clear from the posts here that a fair number of you really take your female counterparts for granted. Shame on you.)

Like this comment
Posted by Does-Silicon-Valley-Gender-Inequality-Exist?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 20, 2015 at 2:43 pm

> satisfied now?

Thanks for the additional information. However, the story still proves nothing, and must be classified as anecdotal.

Missing, of course, is the company’s view of the situation. Almost everyone, if asked, will say: “I’m underpaid.” So, hearing this story from this lady is nothing new. She has failed to tell us when her last raise was, how she was rated by her boss on her last performance review, and when her next performance review was scheduled, and what her next raise would have been had she stayed with the company.

There are just too many variables involved with compensation for us to believe that this lady was oppressed by her boss, and this company.

BTW—she pretty much destroys the claim of how poorly treated women are in the Silicon Valley by telling us that she was able to find another job, at a salary she felt was fair, doing work that she felt qualified to do, in less than two weeks. If she had said that it had been more than a year since this incident, that she had been told she would never see another raise, and that she had been unable to find a job at even a lower salary—then maybe she would have our sympathy. But her finding another job so quickly says she has experienced more-or-less the same job-related problems that men experience, and was able to negotiate her way out of her problems quickly. [Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by sea reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 21, 2015 at 5:42 am

Yes. We have inequality.

however, Females have to overcome by proving that they are as good or better.

One example was/is SANDRA KURTZIG of ASK systems, one of the first CEOs in software industry. There are many more examples. BTW, she is from Los Altos.

It is how one is brought up. My eldest daughter works for a pharma in Basel, Switzerland. She is a UCB graduate. I was at CAL BERKELEY for the Cal Day this past Saturday. I noticed gender equality, no difference between women and female students and color blind.

The world is changing. We just need to walk/run faster.


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