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What’s Behind the Pay Gap in STEM Jobs?

A scientist looks in a microscope.
Feb 19 2021
Fellow, Research, Stanford, Students

Among the many devastating impacts of the coronavirus pandemic is the stark fact that working women have been disproportionately affected — with four times more women than men being pushed out of the labor force, according to one survey. As the pandemic erodes women’s progress in the workforce, addressing the inequalities they face from the start of their careers becomes ever more critical, beginning with equal pay.

Unfortunately, however, when it comes to working in engineering and tech — fields that offer the fastest growing and highest-paying jobs — an entry-level salary for a man is more than $4,000 higher than what’s paid to a woman with comparable credentials. So begins a salary gap that only widens over time, shrinking women’s savings and extending their debt burden.

Stanford researchers who studied this disparity discovered that there is in fact one credential that separates these new hires: self-confidence. Where one candidate guarantees he can prototype and problem solve, the second candidate expresses her doubts. Employers in engineering and computer science fields appear to offer higher starting salaries to applicants who present as self-assured, and those applicants are mostly men. This new research is the first to identify a link between confidence and a pay gap at the start of engineering and computer science careers.

Study co-arthor is Abisola Kusimo, a 2018 EDGE Fellow .

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