Closing the gender wage gap through immigration reform
Last updated 7/18/2019 at 11:23am
Technology firms portray themselves as bastions of equality and progressive values — but in reality, they frequently discriminate against female workers.
Sixty percent of the time, tech firms offer men higher salaries than women for the exact same role. And that’s assuming firms even interview female candidates. More than 40 percent of the time, firms exclusively interview men.
Once they accept job offers, 65 percent of female tech workers say they’ve faced discrimination due to their gender, compared to just 11 percent of men.
Federal immigration policy fuels this discrimination. The H-1B visa program enables tech firms to hire tens of thousands of foreign, mostly male programmers each year -- and box out American women in the process.
The tech industry is responsible for some of the starkest gender inequities in the nation. Women account for only 26 percent of America’s computing workforce and fill a mere 11 percent of the leadership positions at tech companies.
These disparities can’t be chalked up to a lack of technical training. Female graduates outnumber male graduates in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
But these accomplishments haven’t translated into gainful employment. Even among female computer science majors, only 38 percent are employed in computer jobs — compared to 53 percent of male computer science majors.
The H-1B visa program is largely to blame. Congress created the program in 1990 so firms could bring in highly specialized foreigners to fill jobs that Americans couldn’t.
Tech companies haven’t used H-1B visas to close skills gaps — they’ve used them to slash payroll costs. Eighty percent of H-1B workers earn less than Americans in similar roles.
The sheer scale of the program has distorted the labor market. More than 900,000 H-1B visa holders — three-quarters of whom are men — work in the United States. They account for about one in every eight tech workers.
Competition from foreign laborers has driven Americans out of the tech industry and depressed their earnings. Had the H-1B program never existed, 11 percent more Americans would have been employed as computer scientists by 2001. And those Americans’ salaries would have been about 5 percent higher as well.
As long as tech companies can hire cheap guest workers, they’ll feel little pressure to hire American women and treat them fairly. Reforming the H-1B visa program would force employers to give women the pay and opportunities they deserve.
Francine Weinberg works in the tech industry. Her column has been provided by Washington D.C.-based Keybridge Communications.