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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12 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 19, 2015 at 10:03 am

Men's denials of discrimination against women could easily be seen as part of this alleged conspiracy. Based on the names that appear in the article, the author and all the people quoted appear to be men. Shouldn't an article about discrimination against women include at least a few quotes from women about what they are experiencing in the real world?

1 person likes this
Posted by Norman
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 19, 2015 at 10:28 am

Anyone really interested in the facts underlying the 'gap' go to Web Link and search around for wages and STEM. For instance there are something like 4,500 male work related deaths vs about 400 for women. Now there is a 'gap'.

7 people like this
Posted by expvgal
a resident of another community
on Apr 20, 2015 at 3:09 pm

Then there is the issue of women returning from maternity leave, anxious to get back to their job, and then a few months later being told that their position is "being eliminated" -- only to see a male with less experience recreate the position within weeks.
Or women not being considered for promotion just because they are women and have had a child (God forbid they might have another)

2 people like this
Posted by worker
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 20, 2015 at 4:39 pm

It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender, race, marital status, and children during hiring. In the age of Facebook, it is pretty easy for employers to guestimate the answers to all of these without the candidate ever finding out. You don't even have to interview the candidate, just Facebook them and then toss the resumes of people you to discriminate against.

Like this comment
Posted by Team Rome
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Apr 21, 2015 at 12:13 am

Dems for women, repubs against working folk. Easy choice.... if u get a paycheck, hold yer nose and vote for the blue team.

Like this comment
Posted by Wellllll not exactly
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Apr 21, 2015 at 11:20 am

Hillary Clinton portrays herself as a champion of women in the workforce, but women working for her in the U.S. Senate were paid 72 cents for each dollar paid to men, according to a Washington Free Beacon analysis of her Senate years’ salary data.

During those years, the median annual salary for a woman working in Clinton’s office was $15,708.38 less than the median salary for a man, according to the analysis of data compiled from official Senate expenditure reports.

The analysis compiled the annual salaries paid to staffers for an entire fiscal year of work from the years 2002 to 2008. Salaries of employees who were not part of Clinton’s office for a full fiscal year were not included. Because the Senate fiscal year extends from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, Clinton’s first year in the Senate, which began on Jan. 3, 2001, was also not included in the analysis.

The salaries speak for themselves. The data shows that women in her office were paid 72 cents for every dollar paid to men.

Male Female comparison

Despite the numbers, Clinton and her allies have long-touted her as “a fighter for equal pay.”

Correct the Record, a pro-Clinton organization that fights negative reporting on her, pointed out that as a senator she chaired hearings on the issue and sponsored legislation to address it.

Clinton herself has raised the issue, saying last year that there is still “more work to do,” and that 20 years ago women made just “72 cents on the dollar to men”–a figure identical to the gender pay gap in her own Senate office.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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