Why women in the ICT industry are paid less than men

  • Pay disparity between genders in ICT industry linked to difference in experience levels and qualifications
  • Pikom looking into promoting flexible working arrangements to entice more women back into the workforce

Why women in the ICT industry are paid less than menTHE latest ICT Job Market Outlook study revealed that male ICT (information and communications technology) professionals in Malaysia tend to earn a median monthly salary of RM5,201 (US$1,641), while females earn a median salary of only RM3,855 (US$1,216), which works out to a 35% difference.

The annual report, produced by national ICT association Pikom and conducted in collaboration with recruitment portal Jobstreet.com which provided the salary data, and KPMG, which analysed the data in the report -- noted the pay disparity between genders.

This was amidst other alarming findings that showed Malaysia continues to slip further in terms of job attractiveness compared with Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, all of which offer better salaries to qualified ICT professionals.

In an email interview with Digital News Asia (DNA), Ramachandran, Pikom’s head of Policy, Capability & Market Research, said that the disparity in pay between genders in the report was likely due to the difference in experience levels.

He said that the data was sourced from Payscale, which has wider geographical coverage globally, and the number of cases netted for measuring each characteristic including gender was adequately large, speaking from a statistical perspective.

“In this case the income levels are not adjusted for qualification levels. However, in the ICT sector, most of the job seekers are graduates. The salary differentiation comes with years of working experience and types of positions assumed in the organisation.

"As you know, the ICT industry has been a male-dominated profession and only in recent years have women been encouraged to join. Thus, the main factor of the disparity [can be] attributed to the years of experience and positions held by women when compared with their counterparts,” he said.
Ramachandran said that the research team does see other reasons for the disparity in pay, such as the trend of women who leave the workforce to pursue their own interests or commitments, especially after they get married.
When asked at which level, be it junior or senior management, does this bias lie, he said that no explicit effort has been made to study this bias.
“However, it can be conjectured that it is quite likely free from gender bias. The trend may be changing for the fresh graduates category where females are equalling their counterparts in entering this profession. On another note, since this has been an industry long dominated by men, hence we do see a high percentage of them in the more senior positions compared with women,” he added.
According to an excerpt from Malaysia's Country Paper on Human Resource Development in Malaysia in Response to Advancement of ICT hosted on the World Bank’s website, there were 108,000 workers in the local ICT sector in 2001. At an annual average growth rate of 11%, this number was expected to reach more than 300,000 by 2010.
The ICT workforce includes offshore data workers, software programmers, system analysts and teleworkers. About 30% of ICT professionals in the local software industry were women in the World Bank study.
Statistics from Pikom, via data from Orbicom and the Department of Statistics, revealed that the total number of ICT professionals in Malaysia had reached 404,000 in 2009 but the data does not break down the figures based on gender (see table below).

Ramachandran said that the total number had reached 520,000 by 2012.

Why women in the ICT industry are paid less than men
The large difference in pay between male and female ICT professionals is especially glaring in the wake of government initiatives to boost the diversity of the nation’s workforce.

In June 2011, the Malaysian Cabinet approved a policy that women must comprise at least 30% of those in decision-making positions in the corporate sector. Companies were given five years to meet the requirement, a continuation of a similar one set for the public sector in 2004.

However in his keynote address at the Women Deliver Global Conference 2013 in May, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak noted that women still remain under-represented in both politics and the workforce.

Malaysian women make up 49% of the population and the electorate but only 46% of the country’s workforce. Najib said that the nation’s challenge is to now ensure that such opportunities for girls and women do not narrow in the real world.

“Female labour participation which is currently at 47% must be improved if we want to continue seeing robust and sustainable growth,” he added.

For this to happen, Najib said, more jobs aligned to women’s needs should be offered to encourage their participation in the workforce such as through home-based, part-time or flexible working hours.

According to the Retaining Women in the Workforce Report published by the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and TalentCorp early this year, Malaysian women visibly desire flexible work arrangements that accommodate family commitments, support for maternal needs, optimum work-life balance, and equal opportunities and rewards.

However, only 30% of the survey respondents’ employers have a flexible work arrangement policy.

The Malaysian Government has already committed itself to ensuring that women hold at least 30% of decision-making positions in the public and private sectors by 2016, with reforms under the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) which target an increase in female labour participation and the number of women on public listed company boards to 55% and 30% respectively.

Most recently, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development and Talent Corporation Malaysia Berhad (TalentCorp) launched a new portal to create greater awareness of gender diversity and inclusion in the workforce.

Called flexWorkLife.my, the initiative is aimed at raising awareness of gender diversity and inclusion in the workforce through a repository of best ideas and practices on flexible work arrangements and family-friendly facilities.

Employers can also apply online for a tax incentive on training expenses incurred to retrain women who have returned to work after a career break.

When asked what Pikom has in store to better address the need to increase the number of female ICT professionals in the industry, Ramachandran said the association is already looking into the major issues hitting the industry.

“We do see a declining trend of our local ICT graduates and more importantly, the competency of the fresh graduates are being questioned by industry players. Thus, we will be focusing on these burning issues and one of our efforts is to bring together the academic and industry sectors,” he said.
“At the same time, the ICT industry actually has a very unique working environment where many a time, one project could be accomplished just through email and maybe a few phone calls. Therefore, we are also promoting the acceptance of teleworking and flexi-hours that may help in retaining talent in the work place,” he added.

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