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Valley of the Dolls: Women's Wage Woes in the Tech "Shangri-la" of Silicon Valley
Silicon Valley’s wage gap and income inequality between men and women must surely rank among the worst in the country.
In a fascinating report—a Tale of Five Californias—the non-profit Measure of America describes the state’s distinct economic communities. From “The Forsaken Five Percent,” who have been “bypassed by the digital economy and left behind in impoverished LA neighborhoods,” to “Main Street California,” the better-educated “suburban and ex-urban Californians” with a “tenuous grip on middle-class life,” and to “Shangri-la”—prosperous Silicon Valley.
Shangri-la residents, 1 percent of California’s population, are also the “top 1% of the population in well-being.” Shangri-la is an enclave of “extremely well-educated, high-tech, high-flying entrepreneurs and professionals fueling, and accruing the benefits of, innovation, especially in information technology,” the report says. “Highly-developed capabilities give these Californians unmatched freedom to pursue goals that matter to them.”
That sounds like the usual hyperventilation about innovation and “high tech,” a world where you shake a tree and VC dollars flutter into your visionary, entrepreneurial hands.
But Measure of America discovered a worm in the tech utopia. Silicon Valley’s wage gap and income inequality between men and women must surely rank among the worst in the country.
Women in Silicon Valley earn only 49 cents to a man’s dollar.
That’s far worse than the national wage gap, estimated at 78 cents to a dollar. In fact, Silicon Valley’s income inequality is dramatically worse than the wage gap nationally in 1967, and even in 1950, when women earned 58 cents to a man’s dollar, and newspapers ran sex-segregated job listings that said, “Help Wanted—Male” and “Help Wanted—Female.” Some would publish different pay scales, for the exact same jobs, in the adjacent “male” and “female” columns of the same classified section.
To find female-to-male median earnings for full-time, year-round workers in the U.S. that’s comparable to Silicon Valley in 2012, you’d have to go back to the year 1905, when Theodore Roosevelt was president, plastic had just been invented, Einstein first proposed the theory of relativity, and the newfangled high tech of radio was still under development. Silicon Valley’s wage gap isn’t much better than that of 1890, either, the earliest data that I could find, when women earned 45 cents on the dollar.
The most cutting-edge place in our economy has the most retro wage gap.
My hunch is that this paradox is an artifact of occupational segregation. Silicon Valley has a specialized economy. A preponderance of its well-compensated occupations are high-tech and tech-entrepreneurial—fields that are still dominated by men. The dearth of women in these high-income professions, in contrast to their parity in most other white-collar fields such as law and medicine, would skew the overall income gap.
Sarah Burd-Sharps, one of the report’s authors, explains in an email that they found this to be the case: “Silicon Valley is home to an exceptional concentration of people with very high earnings," she says. "And most of them are men…. Three-quarters of those earning over $125,000 a year are men, many working in management, computer programming, and research occupations. Conversely, of those who earn under $25,000 per year in Silicon Valley, two-thirds are women.”
More economically diversified communities in California, with a more balanced representation of well-paying, sex-integrated white-collar professions, see a smaller gender gap. Ironically, although California’s “Forsaken” are far worse off, male and female workers there are far more equal than Shangri-la in their wages (or plight), with a wage gap that mirrors the national one.
The Center for American Progress reports that nationwide, 40 percent of the wage gap is simply “unexplained” by factors such as job choice or work experience. Others estimate that about 25 percent of the wage gap is explicable by occupational choice. I wonder if a higher percentage of the wage gap in Silicon Valley, specifically, is explained by occupational segregation.
Hopefully, if we did in-group comparisons, we’d find that women who do hold high-tech, prestigious, innovation positions in the Valley economy are earning comparable to their male colleagues, or at least “enjoying” a wage deficit that’s closer to the average. Burd-Sharps finds that this is so. “Of all workers in computer and mathematical occupations in Santa Clara County which have overall median earnings of about $100,000,” she says, “women make up under one quarter of the workforce in these occupations, and their median earnings are only about 84 percent of men's in the same jobs.” While 84 cents on the dollar is bad, it’s not as bad as 49.
It's hard to dismiss the Valley just as an economic idiosyncrasy.
Indeed, “Silicon Valley” is at this point both a place and a synecdoche for an entire economy—the (high-tech) economy that shows promise for future growth, and whose innovations are reshaping almost every aspect of our culture, from media to medicine. Such a dramatic wage gap could be a canary in the coal mine, a warning about income and “influence” inequality to come as one of the most important sectors of the 21st-century economy expands its reach.
Just as women have dramatically closed the gap on prestigious professions such as law and medicine, it seems that the action has moved elsewhere. I joke in my book (Now Available in Paperback) that while women were dutifully completing their advanced professional degrees and years of schooling, their male classmates had dropped out, set up shop in their parents’ garage, founded a tech start up and retired at 40.
It’s worrisome if this wage gap indirectly reflects occupational re-segregation by sex, and women’s limited presence and influence in the innovation crucible of Silicon Valley.
There are no easy explanations, or remedies, for women’s under-representation in the field. Burd-Sharps and her colleagues point to the lack of family-friendly work policies, which are certainly important.
Courses of study and job choices are important, too. Women can’t be forced to pursue things they don’t want to pursue. Still, it can’t possibly be the case that women are implacably and inherently less interested in the digital economy by 51 cents on the dollar.
As a start, how do we encourage girls and young women to see themselves as inventors and visionaries in the field, rather than just as end-users or consumers of information technology? Children should be thinking about how to make the technology, not simply to use it.
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
So far, 30 student teams have entered the Indy Autonomous Challenge, scheduled for October 2021.
- The Indy Autonomous Challenge will task student teams with developing self-driving software for race cars.
- The competition requires cars to complete 20 laps within 25 minutes, meaning cars would need to average about 110 mph.
- The organizers say they hope to advance the field of driverless cars and "inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>Completing the race in 25 minutes means the cars will need to average about 110 miles per hour. So, while the race may end up being a bit slower than a typical Indy 500 competition, in which winners average speeds of over 160 mph, it's still set to be the fastest autonomous race featuring full-size cars.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"There is no human redundancy there," Matt Peak, managing director for Energy Systems Network, a nonprofit that develops technology for the automation and energy sectors, told the <a href="https://www.post-gazette.com/business/tech-news/2020/06/01/Indy-Autonomous-Challenge-Indy-500-Indianapolis-Motor-Speedway-Ansys-Aptiv-self-driving-cars/stories/202005280137" target="_blank">Pittsburgh Post-Gazette</a>. "Either your car makes this happen or smash into the wall you go."</p>
Illustration of the Indy Autonomous Challenge
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>The Indy Autonomous Challenge <a href="https://www.indyautonomouschallenge.com/rules" target="_blank">describes</a> itself as a "past-the-post" competition, which "refers to a binary, objective, measurable performance rather than a subjective evaluation, judgement, or recognition."</p><p>This competition design was inspired by the 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge, which tasked teams with developing driverless cars and sending them along a 150-mile route in Southern California for a chance to win $1 million. But that prize went unclaimed, because within a few hours after starting, all the vehicles had suffered some kind of critical failure.</p>
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>One factor that could prevent a similar outcome in the upcoming race is the ability to test-run cars on a virtual racetrack. The simulation software company Ansys Inc. has already developed a model of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on which teams will test their algorithms as part of a series of qualifying rounds.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We can create, with physics, multiple real-life scenarios that are reflective of the real world," Ansys President Ajei Gopal told <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/autonomous-vehicles-to-race-at-indianapolis-motor-speedway-11595237401?mod=e2tw" target="_blank">The Wall Street Journal</a>. "We can use that to train the AI, so it starts to come up to speed."</p><p>Still, the race could reveal that self-driving cars aren't quite ready to race at speeds of over 110 mph. After all, regular self-driving cars already face enough logistical and technical roadblocks, including <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-53349313#:~:text=Tesla%20will%20be%20able%20to,no%20driver%20input%2C%20he%20said." target="_blank">crumbling infrastructure, communication issues</a> and the <a href="https://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/would-you-ride-in-a-car-thats-programmed-to-kill-you" target="_self">fateful moral decisions driverless cars will have to make in split seconds</a>.</p>But the Indy Autonomous Challenge <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5da73021d0636f4ec706fa0a/t/5dc0680c41954d4ef41ec2b2/1572890638793/Indy+Autonomous+Challenge+Ruleset+-+v5NOV2019+%282%29.pdf" target="_blank">says</a> its main goal is to advance the industry, by challenging "students around the world to imagine, invent, and prove a new generation of automated vehicle (AV) software and inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
A new Harvard study finds that the language you use affects patient outcome.
- A study at Harvard's McLean Hospital claims that using the language of chemical imbalances worsens patient outcomes.
- Though psychiatry has largely abandoned DSM categories, professor Joseph E Davis writes that the field continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system."
- Chemical explanations of mental health appear to benefit pharmaceutical companies far more than patients.
Challenging the Chemical Imbalance Theory of Mental Disorders: Robert Whitaker, Journalist<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="41699c8c2cb2aee9271a36646e0bee7d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-8BDC7i8Yyw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>This is a far cry from Howard Rusk's 1947 NY Times editorial calling for mental healt</p><p>h disorders to be treated similarly to physical disease (such as diabetes and cancer). This mindset—not attributable to Rusk alone; he was merely relaying the psychiatric currency of the time—has dominated the field for decades: mental anguish is a genetic and/or chemical-deficiency disorder that must be treated pharmacologically.</p><p>Even as psychiatry untethered from DSM categories, the field still used chemistry to validate its existence. Psychotherapy, arguably the most efficient means for managing much of our anxiety and depression, is time- and labor-intensive. Counseling requires an empathetic and wizened ear to guide the patient to do the work. Ingesting a pill to do that work for you is more seductive, and easier. As Davis writes, even though the industry abandoned the DSM, it continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system." </p><p>That language has infiltrated public consciousness. The team at McLean surveyed 279 patients seeking acute treatment for depression. As they note, the causes of psychological distress have constantly shifted over the millennia: humoral imbalance in the ancient world; spiritual possession in medieval times; early childhood experiences around the time of Freud; maladaptive thought patterns dominant in the latter half of last century. While the team found that psychosocial explanations remain popular, biogenetic explanations (such as the chemical imbalance theory) are becoming more prominent. </p><p>Interestingly, the 80 people Davis interviewed for his book predominantly relied on biogenetic explanations. Instead of doctors diagnosing patients, as you might expect, they increasingly serve to confirm what patients come in suspecting. Patients arrive at medical offices confident in their self-diagnoses. They believe a pill is the best course of treatment, largely because they saw an advertisement or listened to a friend. Doctors too often oblige without further curiosity as to the reasons for their distress. </p>
Image: Illustration Forest / Shutterstock<p>While medicalizing mental health softens the stigma of depression—if a disorder is inheritable, it was never really your fault—it also disempowers the patient. The team at McLean writes,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"More recent studies indicate that participants who are told that their depression is caused by a chemical imbalance or genetic abnormality expect to have depression for a longer period, report more depressive symptoms, and feel they have less control over their negative emotions."</p><p>Davis points out the language used by direct-to-consumer advertising prevalent in America. Doctors, media, and advertising agencies converge around common messages, such as everyday blues is a "real medical condition," everyone is susceptible to clinical depression, and drugs correct underlying somatic conditions that you never consciously control. He continues,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Your inner life and evaluative stance are of marginal, if any, relevance; counseling or psychotherapy aimed at self-insight would serve little purpose." </p><p>The McLean team discovered a similar phenomenon: patients expect little from psychotherapy and a lot from pills. When depression is treated as the result of an internal and immutable essence instead of environmental conditions, behavioral changes are not expected to make much difference. Chemistry rules the popular imagination.</p>