Gender, Race, and Migration in High Tech Work


Sharla uses interviews with tech workers and nationally representative quantitative workforce data from the American Community Survey to examine the consequences of race, gender, and immigration for tech workers’ experiences and wages. Despite public policy initiatives and private sector investment to recruit more women, women’s participation in high-tech work has decreased since 1990. While previous research shows a decrease in the proportion of women in tech work, these conclusions are somewhat misleading as they do not consider the intersections of race and migration with gender. Sharla finds only modest change in the absolute numbers of women. Rather, as the field grew, male migrant workers have primarily filled the new positions. Using only a gendered lens obscures the complicated racial and global dynamics of the tech workforce. She empirically examines three aspects of tech worker’s experience.

First, she looks at differences in wages by gender, race, and immigration status using decomposition techniques. She finds that, despite the investment in recruiting women, there is a considerable wage gap that reflects intersecting race, gender, and immigration inequalities.

Second, she explores the kinds of work that tech workers do, and find that by mid-career many white women had moved into management position that emphasize interpersonal skills over technical skills. She call these positions “translational” as they are expected to translate technical information to management and business directives to technical teams. While this transition into management seemed to happen for white women regardless of their intentions, women of color did not seem to move into management unless they specifically pursued these jobs.

Finally, Sharla examines how tech workers imagine the ideal engineer works. Many workers envision someone who is always at their computer working very long hours and constantly engaged in technical pursuits, but workers explained that they valued work/life balance. Managers had more control over their schedules but they also worked nights and weekends. Software developers and others in strictly technical positions worked closer to an 8-hour day. Meanwhile, technical work such as software development is increasingly done by migrant contract workers who work with legal restrictions that push them to work like the ideal engineer described in the interviews.


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