Evan Thornley, an Australian tech executive and former politician, told a technology startup conference that when he ran a previous company, he was able to get talented women who were “relatively cheap” because of the gender wage gap.
He started out by saying that the undervaluation of women in technology presented an opportunity for his online advertising company LookSmart. “Call me opportunistic, I just thought I could get better people with less competition because we were willing to understand the skills and capabilities that many of these women had,” he said
But then he went on to say, “There’s a great arbitrage there, we would give [women] more responsibility and a greater share of the rewards than they were likely to get anywhere else and that was still often relatively cheap to someone less good of a different gender.” He said he didn’t want the gender wage gap to necessarily continue, but that it provides “an opportunity for forward thinking people.” He also drew blowback for including a slide that sarcastically said: “Women: Like men, only cheaper.”
— Rose Powell (@rosepowell) September 19, 2014
He later apologized in the comment section of a blog post on his comments, saying, “Yep, stuffed that up,” clarifying that he was trying to say that “gender inequality sucks everywhere but esp in tech – I do what I can to combat it,” adding, “Sorry it didn’t come out that way.” He said he doesn’t hire the overrated, over-paid men in the sector and “others may find it a good decision for their business to hire talented women and pay them properly rather than hire less talented men and over-pay them.”
Thornley isn’t wrong to say that women make less and are likely undervalued. An American woman who works full time, year round will make, on average, just 78 percent of what the same man would make. There’s a pay difference in virtually every job, given that women make less than men in 112 out of 115 occupations tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some of the gap can be accounted for with various factors, but a portion of it continues to defy explanation, leaving room for discrimination to be at work.
This gap holds true in tech as well, of course. Women working full-time in computer and mathematical occupations make $278 less each week at the median compared to men. Women with science and engineering degrees working in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) field make $15,900 less than men each year. The gap narrows when age, education, hours, and race are taken into consideration. Still, the average woman in tech is making less than the average man, certainly making it easier to attract her to a given company while promising less pay.
There’s also a surplus of women to choose from if a company wants to hire them. Women hold 41 percent of science and engineering degrees but fill just over a quarter of all technology jobs. A handful of big name tech companies — Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Pinterest, Twitter, and Yahoo — recently released their workforce demographics and no company had more than a quarter women among their technology employees. That’s a lot of talent going wasted that a forward-thinking company could scoop up. But instead of viewing women as an opportunity to get a “deal,” tech executives could pay them fairly, just like men.