Skip to Main Content

Big Data, Smaller Wage Gap?

MA_Raytheon_WickhamBy Pam Wickham, Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Communications, Raytheon Company

I have a niece. Several, actually, but I’m thinking about one in particular. I helped deliver her at the hospital, and over the past 18 years I’ve watched her grow into a woman I admire.

My niece is smart and conscientious. She knows politics and wants to fight the world’s injustices. She reads. She sings. She loves movies. She plays volleyball. But what defines her most is her determination: She works for what she wants, and she lets nothing get in her way.

Now of course my niece is special to me, but we all know young women who are just as driven and idealistic. And that’s why I am so alarmed about the continuing gender wage gap, which tells us that somewhere along the way, bright, promising women will have an employer decide their potential and contributions are somehow worth less than those of their male counterparts.

Paychecks Today

Women hold just 5 percent of the CEO offices in Fortune 1000 companies, the nonprofit Catalyst reported in October. The salary story is equally bleak: Women earn 82 cents for every dollar a man makes, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Mothers with careers fared even worse, pulling 75 cents on the dollar.

Those figures alone are discouraging, but what’s truly depressing is that they’ve been about the same for decades. The gender wage gap everybody keeps talking about is closing at a glacial pace. My niece—and yours—won’t see wage parity until 2058 in the United States, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Globally, the gap won’t close until 2095, according to the World Economic Forum. An entire generation of women, maybe two, will make less at work for no reason other than their gender.

Solutions at Our Fingertips

We need ideas to accelerate the pace of change, and I think data analytics is the answer.

The retail industry already has this down: A coat I clicked on once—once!—has popped up on every website I’ve visited ever since. I walked into the hardware store and received a text from a competitor soon after. I bought a single low-calorie frozen entrée at the grocery store, and—voila!—the next day I got a promo for a weight-loss program.

Analytics and microtargeting aren’t just for retailers and politicians—they can help us grow the ranks of executive women and close the gender wage gap. Employers analyze who clicked on internal job postings, and we can pursue qualified women who looked but never applied. We can go beyond analyzing the salary and rank histories of women who have left our companies. We can use big data analytics to tell us what exit interviews don’t.

Facebook posts, Twitter feeds and LinkedIn groups provide a trove of valuable intel from ex-employees. What they write is blunt, candid and useful. All the data is there for the taking—we just have to collect it and figure out what it means. We can delve deep into whether we’re promoting the best people, whether we’re doing enough to keep our ranks diverse, whether potential female leaders are being left behind and, importantly, why.

Fast-Forward to a Better Future

Which brings me back to my niece. Ultimately, I hope she alone controls what she does, where she works and how well she’s paid. I hope when she faces discrimination or disadvantage, she works to change it.

If she feels stuck in her job, I’ll advise her to look for promotions or other opportunities. If she’s not being paid what she’s worth, I want her to advocate for a raise. Better still, I want her to build a strong support team of women—and men. I want her to find diverse leaders from outside her comfortable network who will tell her how they got where they are and maybe help her along her own path.

And what I want for my niece tomorrow, I also want for you… today. Change has come slowly in the past few decades, but the pace of technology and the power of data analytics can propel us forward. The answers are right in front of us. We just need to open our eyes.

Get The Conference in Your Inbox

Join over 300,000 like-minded people for inspiration, insights and community for working women — plus Conference news and speaker announcements.

No thanks, I don't want to learn