Widening gap in women’s HIT pay disappoints many

Some industry leaders understand the factors behind the differential, but concern is growing that it may dissuade some females from pursuing careers in healthcare.

HIMSS’ analysis of data from its biennial compensation surveys found that women earned 78 percent of the average male IT worker’s pay in 2015. That percentage that left some women in the industry shocked, others unsurprised, but all expressed disappointment with the gap.

And that gap has actually widened over the past 10 years. In 2006 the HIMSS Longitudinal Gender Compensation Assessment found that the average woman IT worker’s salary was 80.7 percent of that earned by their male peers.

This growing gap may be partially attributed to the gradual increase of men’s’ salaries in the industry across those years, with an annual growth rate of 1.16 percent. Women’s annual growth rate was 0.79.

“Unfortunately, I'm not surprised,” says Sue Schade, CIO at University Hospitals of Cleveland. “However, I'm disappointed and thought we were doing much better than this in healthcare.”

She says that while it’s hard to pinpoint why this gap has persisted, she suggests that it may have to do with the cost constraints facing healthcare providers.

“Bringing new staff in at lower salaries could be a perceived cost management step,” Schade says. “It could impact women disproportionately, given the inequities that exist.”

Another industry leader suspected that the persistent gap could traced back to societal differences between men and women, who may feel less confident asking for raises and promotions or who are more willing to value other workplaces benefits above high pay. The willingness to accept benefits, such as having more time off or the ability to work at home, instead of a high salary may be related to the fact that women often are the ones who shoulder the role as the chief family caretaker.

“Some women, and some men, are not as aggressive when discussing compensation with their managers,” says the industry expert, who wished to remain unnamed. “They may start a job earning the same as their male counterparts, but are less comfortable asking for salary adjustments. Some women, and some men, enter the workforce willing to accept lower compensation in return for more flexibility, or better work/life integration.”

Women also may find themselves caught in a job that doesn’t have its description and salary clearly outlined, leading to a wide range for those working the same job, says Adrienne Edens, the vice president of education at the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives. She has worked in the industry for decades and has seen women working in roles where their pay and path to promotion was not clearly outlined in policy.

“I found that there were a lot of large discrepancies in pay because there were so many job descriptions and no policies,” Edens says. “We need to be sure that we understand what the policies are regarding pay and compensation, so that everyone is very comfortable that they’re getting the same amount of pay as their peers for doing the same work. Women shouldn’t have to worry about that, but it sounds like we do.”

Unlike Schade, Edens and the unnamed industry expert both were surprised by the HIMSS results. But all three agreed that steps should be taken to ensure the gap made apparent in the results closes and to keep women attracted to a career in healthcare IT.

“I work with so many talented women in healthcare IT,” Edens says. “They bring incredible sets of skills and experience to the work that they do, and they are very passionate about it. I would hate to see women not go into healthcare because they tend to be very good at it and it is one of the most rewarding places to work.”

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