New research finds gender pay gap of up to 31% in software development

New research reveals a gender pay gap of 4% in favour of men between software and DevOps professionals with less than two years of experience. The gap rises to 31% for more experienced employees.

Uniting Cloud, a recruitment consultancy specialising in connecting experienced Software and DevOps professionals with employers, has released its latest industry report. The report presents an analysis of the current landscape of the UK's Software and DevOps sector, and is based on a survey of software professionals.

The report makes depressing reading for those seeking greater diversity in the world of software engineering. The data highlights that the gender balance of the industry is still very heavily skewed male, with 76% of survey respondents identifying as male, and 19% as female. Analysts have suggested that approximately 25% of technical roles overall are filled by women so this latest data suggests that software development specifically is tracking behind that curve.

Not only are women under-represented in software development, they're also paid less than their male colleagues. Even at a junior level, defined in this research as those with less than 2 years' experience, women engineers were paid 4% less than male colleagues. That doesn't look too bad when viewed alongside an overall gender pay gap of around 12%, and it's an improvement on the 9% gap that was reported in 2021, as Mandy Kettle, Executive Consultant, Uniting Cloud commented:

"We are delighted to see the gender pay gap reducing from 9% last year to 4% this year at junior levels. There are a few reasons for this as more and more juniors take STEM and computer science courses and naturally see software as a career path. Businesses are starting to couple graduates with cost-effective technology too. Python and Golang for instance, are great examples of cost-effective technologies that are reasonably fast to learn. This allows businesses to turn to graduates, up-skill them, and ensure they are receiving equal pay." 

The problem is that they aren't receiving equal pay.

Why does the gender pay gap widen as developers get older?

None of the usual reasons cited for gender pay gaps between more experienced individuals are likely to apply to such junior roles. Junior developers who are less than 2 years into their career are all likely to be relatively recent graduates in a STEM subject. Motherhood, which acts as a persistent drag on women's salaries later in life is unlikely to be an issue. When viewed from this perspective it is difficult to see how any gender pay gap can be justified, which leaves bias as the only explanation for it.

The picture worsens as individuals gain experience. The gender pay gap between developers with between 3 and 5 years' experience is 27%. For those having gained between 6 and 10 years' experience the pay gap is 31%. This compares highly unfavourably with current UK averages although data gathered by bodies such as the ONS come with a caveat that Covid and furlough will have distorted wage data.

There are many factors cited for the widening of the gender pay gap as workers age. Younger workers have more structures and systems in place to protect them from the effects of bias, and the proportion of women working in traditionally male dominated sectors has increased, albeit slowly in the case of technology. However, data suggests that those women have been less likely to be promoted onto the first rung of leadership, and that gaps in remuneration widen accordingly - and continue to widen.

In order to be considered for promotion, junior software developers are expected to undertake plenty of work outside of their core working hours and role. As a young person with minimal responsibilities, extra study and reading present few challenges. As caring responsibilities arrive, women are disproportionately affected by other commitments and begin to fall behind in terms of the amount of work they can undertake out of hours. The pandemic increased these disparities as women picked up a far greater share of the home school and general childcare burden than men, and the effects of this are likely be felt over years.

This "time tax" is by far from the only factor contributing to the widening gender pay gap in mid-ranking and senior software development. There are many complex, human factors such as the perception of what constitutes leadership qualities and the informal nature of networking, mentoring and sponsorship. Women know that confidence can be perceived differently depending on the gender of the person exhibiting it but often find out too late that quiet diligence doesn't necessarily bring rewards. Added to this messy mix is the fact that salary structures are often opaque. When it comes to water cooler chat, pay remains taboo.

Unless tech employers make some demonstrable progress in addressing their gender pay gap, they will continue to lose female talent and struggle to fill vacancies as STEM graduates look elsewhere for better long-term prospects.

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