In a weird twist on the usual "wage gap" issue, I found out recently that I'm making significantly more than male colleagues near my experience level because I'm not a man.

For reference, I am an software development intern at a small company, and the only female developer in the office. I am currently working through a program at my university, so I have an advisor as well. I am also making about 25% more than the men near my level, which I've confirmed with them myself. I do have a bit more experience than the men near my level and I believe that I'm a bit more productive than them, which could partly explain my higher wage.

In a recent conversation with my financial manager, she disclosed to me that one of the reasons I have a higher wage was that they rarely see female candidates and when they do, they ask for more compensation than the average. She told me that my company thinks it's valuable to have a more diverse work environment, so they were willing to pay me my requested wage, despite it being much higher than the average for this position.

Of course, I don't want to downgrade my pay, and would sooner look for another job than take a pay cut but I do feel very odd hearing this news. My question is: Is it morally correct to pay me, or any woman, more because it will create a more diverse workplace?

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    Supply & demand ... that which is scarce is (possibly) worth more, depending on how much it is needed.
    – brhans
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 18:19
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    What stands out to me here is that your gender is one reason - not the sole reason for the wage difference. Consider that better productivity and more experience (and possibly other factors) come into it. tl;dr - you don't really know why you get paid more (also - you might not be told the full truth about your compensation relative to others).
    – Oded
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 18:20
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    Morals are, by definition, subjective. What is immoral to you may be quite moral for someone else. Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 18:32
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    Make sure you're not being overpaid, as opposed to them being underpaid. If you are, do everything you can to boost your skill level, or the next job may prove to be a challenge you are not up to meeting. Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 19:18
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    As usual, casting a vote to reopen on a question gnat votes to close.
    – user42272
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 16:23

12 Answers 12


The company is not doing anything morally wrong, and there should be no repercussions.

In a recent conversation with my financial manager, she disclosed to me that one of the reasons I have a higher wage was rarely do they see women interviewees, and when they do, they ask for more compensation than the average. She told me that my company thinks it's valuable to have a more diverse work environment, so they were willing to pay me my requested wage, despite it being much higher.

The most important point here is that you asked for more compensation than is typical. They felt that what you offered - that includes your skills, your experience, your personality, and the added diversity of being a woman - was worth paying what you requested. If you had asked for the same amount that your coworkers gave, then you would now all have the same salary. This is how salary negotiation works, and it looks like you've succeeded!

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    @Monica That should then apply to the question as well. It sounds rather strange that a mod should admonish people for discussing gender discrimination under a question/answer that primarily focuses on that topic.
    – Masked Man
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 16:30
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    @MaskedMan: first, the comments here are what attracted the flags; I'll review the post more generally. Second, if the discussion here had been constructive I would have moved it to chat, but a lot of it was pretty rude. If, elsewhere on the question, comments are being used appropriately, those might stick around. Finally, extended discussions don't belong in comments anyway, no matter what the topic is. Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 16:39
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    @Monica I do not really care about the comments being deleted per se, but comments that attempted to point out flaws in the answer are constructive. OP should either respond to those points or improve the answer to take care of those issues. As one particular user going on a flagging spree (and attacking commenters in chat for comments posted here) is enough to deem all comments rude, I will just follow the next piece of advice usually floated around here: "Downvote and leave".
    – Masked Man
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 9:36
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    My comment was constructive, regardless of whether you agree with it or not. And yes, moderators do a fine job here most of the time, but when controversial topics like feminism and religion are involved, there have been instances in the past when moderators selectively delete comments that don't agree with their own opinion (and a certain great SO employee has even gone to the extent of deleting paragraphs from someone's answer to suit his viewpoint). Thanks for your offer, I won't bring it up on meta and let moderators and employees gang up on me as was done to another user before.
    – Masked Man
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 17:19
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    Agreed - my comment was removed when it addressed the post directly and pointed out the obvious flaw in the answer. Specifically: reverse discrimination is still discrimination and morally objectionable. That is to say nothing of the legality of it ...
    – Chris
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 23:26

It seems to me that they gave you the wage you asked for because they wanted to hire you. That is how pretty much all wage negotiations are expected to work except in regulated environments like government service with standard pay scales. Why would you feel bad that you got more?

Pay is never fair because it is based on negotiating skills as well as both explicit (I got told once that all the women in the office got half the raise all the men got because "women don't need the money, they have men to take care of them." Oddly I left shortly after that.) and implicit prejudices. Feel grateful that it went in your favor for once. If they didn't think you were worth it, they would not have offered it.

I have never known any of the thousands of people I have worked with through the years who seemed the least bit upset that they earned more than someone else. It is how the world works.

I suspect that part of what upsets you isn't so much the money but that they were stupid enough to tell you that you got that wage for being female. It negates your professional skill and is frankly insulting. Telling someone that is the reason why they hired you and paid you more is upsetting especially when you are (based on what you said) more qualified than the others at your level.

Frankly, none of your coworkers has a need to know about your salary. Don't talk about it ever at work in any event. Don't discuss that you found out they hired you for diversity either, then they will automatically assume you are unqualified. I have seen that happen too often to assume otherwise.

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    Problem is, "worth it" is partially based on the gender. Would you have the same attitude if a male was paid a higher wage in part because of his gender? (not JUST because he asked for higher wage, but because the company judged him to be worth that wage because he's male)?
    – user13655
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 1:50
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    @DVK But they are. Always. And I never ever encountered a male software engineer agonising because he's getting paid more than the women.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 12:24
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    @RedSonja Did you per chance ever encouter one who actually got told by his manager that he was getting paid more because he's male? And if so, was he insulted by this? ;) Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 13:01
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    @SurprisedEuropean yepp. And no, none of them were ever insulted. In fact they felt entitled to it. The one place I ever worked in the UK where I was getting more than my colleagues (who were all male) (because I was a new recruit with more experience and more qualifications) once they found out they were so enraged that they mobbed me till I left.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 14:00
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    @RedSonja How unsurprising and depressing at the same time. I'm getting a feeling the OP's manager was just trying to mess with her head by making this completely unnecessary comment. Wouldn't it be ironic if this was their tactic to make female employees shut up about their salary so they don't realise they're underpaid? Or maybe they weren't that insidious but just plain rude. Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 8:32

I'm fairly certain this would be illegal, at least in the UK and the US.


No employer having employees subject to any provisions of this section [section 206 of title 29 of the United States Code] shall discriminate, within any establishment in which such employees are employed, between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees in such establishment at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex in such establishment for equal work on jobs[,] the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions, except where such payment is made pursuant to (i) a seniority system; (ii) a merit system; (iii) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (iv) a differential based on any other factor other than sex [...]


There is specific legislation that forbids paying people different rates for the same work solely based on their gender which seems to be explicitly the case here. They have actually stated they are going to pay you a higher rate because you are a woman.

  • The OP is also more experienced and productive than her peers (see (ii) merit system). What the employer is doing is perfectly legal.
    – rath
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 12:53
  • @Agent_L I read that as OP's personal financial manager, not from the company
    – user30031
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 13:47
  • @DoritoStyle ooh, I get it now.
    – Agent_L
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 14:00
  • If you want to discuss gender in the workplace, discrimination, diversity, legal issues, etc, use The Workplace Chat. Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 18:47
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    @rath they have already admitted their motivation wasn't merit but gender. Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 18:59

If you get one thing from this answer: Beware underhanded negotiation tactics. Especially with companies who inexplicably fail to retain women talent.

In particular, do not believe anything you hear in negotiation! This looks to me like a classic underhanded negotiation. Maybe I'm wrong, but you need to understand what this underhanded tactic looks like and how it may have happened in spades. I urge you to keep your defenses up. Without further ado: they really went low here.

I do have a bit more experience than the men near my level and I believe that I'm a bit more productive than them, which could partly explain my higher wage.

That seems like a fantastic reason to pay you more than your peers. It might even be discriminatory not to.

She told me that my company thinks it's valuable to have a more diverse work environment, so they were willing to pay me my requested wage, despite it being much higher than the average for this position.

So what happened is she devalued you on the basis of your gender so you believed you could not ask for more. Underhanded intent or not, that is what happened here. You may have asked too low even. And your hiring manager made it sound like a hush-hush thing, so you might not even ask for any more advice on the topic, or compare salaries (great job on not falling for that, by the way). Not the first or the last time that will ever happen to you in your career, dare I admit, especially as a woman.

It is advantageous for them to dole you nonsense like this because it frames the negotiation so that they have total power in valuing your employment. You can tell this because you have, of course, never considered that they are not paying you enough for the diversity you are adding with your own womanhood. It should be an obnoxious red flag to you that they get to value your diversity but you do not. Beware underhanded negotiation tactics.

This is the sort of vague, ploying nonsense that happens in a negotiation, and, of course, it should be very, very odd to you they have so much trouble retaining female talent. Their excuses and weird compensatory tactic to make up for it are probably part of the very problem. But, if the work culture seems extremely positive to you, and you are pretty confident your compensation is estimable, then it may be worth not taking this point too seriously.

Gender-informed hiring and negotiation is often a great thing. But it was definitely wrong to use your gender to make you question your value.

Your management either did something very lowbrow, or something innocent and stupid. Either way: they have deliberately put you in the position where from this day forward, your compensation has absolutely nothing to do with your performance.

At any company, it is extremely difficult for an employee to know their worth. You may make blunder after blunder and they may know the softawre system you are supposed to keep running smoothly is a piece of junk, but you have trouble telling whether you are the problem or they are. It is hard to tell what is going on. Therefore employees are extremely sensitive to any hint of their worth. Not that you need to be sensitive when they drop a bomb on you: apparently they want you to believe that a good percentage of your compensation is because of your gender.

How can you ask for a raise going forward when they forced you to believe your compensation is pure generosity anyway? Yeah, they made a huge mistake. My guess is you will not be with them very much longer.

Gender should inform pay and negotiation structure, but when it comes time to actually hire or manage an employee, it should be left out. What would be okay is to tell a woman she was hired because she accurately estimated her ability as a coder and the company values that over negotiation finesse. This may be part of an initiative to retain more women, either because the hiring manager feels this is a noble goal or because they feel women are talented and it would be in the company's best interest to retain them, but there is a difference between gender informing these decisions and gender being laid out in front of the employee as what her worth depends on. That is not okay because, moral or not, it creates a toxic culture and, honestly, is part of their retention problem. I'm not sure whether they'll ever realize that.

Perhaps I've answered your initial question by now. I think initiatives to promote and retain women are great and they should bring into question compensation and negotiations. Your company went about a way to do this that was wrong. My own business ethics would never let me do something as underhanded as this while, effectively, intimidating a woman on the basis of her gender. There are effective, respectful, and moral ways to go about retaining women and explicitly considering gender in the process, but your company is an another planet when it comes to this problem.

How to lean in: center your employment and future job searches around your performance. You deserve this. Accept nothing else.

What to do now? Firstly, a good job, no more and no less. Stick with this job and do your best. You are plenty qualified for it, as you clearly are aware.

Always recenter every conversation on your compensation on your performance. "I appreciate that you want to retain women talent, but you should be aware I'm performing very strongly here. I hope that as you have seen my talent you have only come to value that more and more." Stuff like that.

And finally, When you look for a new job, absolutely expect to make more. Do not believe this nonsense that they overvalued or overpaid you. That's effective at suppressing salaries sometimes but in full, underhanded glory it is all but emotional abuse.

  • Every word is gold, but the last paragraph is particularly important.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 14:44

Unless the company has a policy that everyone with the same experience level gets the same salary (example), there's nothing wrong from a technical point of view. As long as there's salary negotiation, pay will never be fair.

Ethically, there is a difference between you being paid more because you're a woman and someone being paid more because he has better negotiation skills. Arguably, one can develop their skills, while sex not is something one chooses or is supposed to change to suit their job better. I don't find this 100% morally correct, but then paying someone for skills which are not related to their job responsibilities (i.e. a developer with salary negotiation skills) doesn't feel 100% right either.


My immediate observation is that you might be put into a salary range that you aren't necessarily qualified to earn. It's like working in a company where the president's kid gets appointed as Director of Sales right after graduating from college, with no experience, and everybody has to tolerate such a decision.

If you ever go elsewhere, you'll be confused about your actual worth because your take-home has been artificially inflated; you've been accommodated so you can be the token woman on the team.

  • 1
    You might add something like, "Conversely, if your performance improves over time you'll never really get feedback on that because you're paid partly for your gender. You may miss out on raises and may even lowball yourself with other companies." I get where you came from with first reaction but this answer could benefit from some generosity toward the OP or even just balance. Sorry for leaving 4 comments, think I'm done now.
    – user42272
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 18:38
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 15:04

First off, there is no unambiguous single answer, because morality/ethics is, generally speaking, relative (even the seemingly "absolute" bits get bent and mended situationally - for example "no murder" seems absolute, until you remember that most justice systems have exemptions for mental incapacity, or for police who killed a bystander, or police who kill an innocent person when they invaded wrong house by mistake. Cannibalism is considered morally OK if you are starving in Chilean Andes or Antarctica. Some people consider marrying one's cousin immoral. Einstein didn't). Moreover, morality seems to be a complex and multi-factored (see Moral foundations theory).

As such, whether it's correct to pay you more just to achieve diversity depends heavily on two factors, both of which might conflict:

  1. Will diversity bring tangible financial benefits to the company?

    There is some research that shows it might, for example by making it easier to hire other women - leaving aside desirability of hiring them as women, it simply enlarges available candidate pool making hiring process easier and better. Some claim it offers benefits by providing "new viewpoints" (personally, I find the latter explanation extremely dubious absent scientific proof, since 100% of competent female software developers I ever encountered thought pretty much same way as I did. And 100% incompetent ones had same thought deficiencies as incompetent male ones). Or, it may create good PR for the company, witness Google or Yahoo, which may attract customers who care about diversity - it's irrational yet self-fulfilling prophecy.

    So, in case the extra cost of a salary for you as a female (only the portion that isn't warranted by your better qualifications), gives the company more in benefits than the cost, it's actually the management's fiduciary duty to shareholders to pay you as a female a higher salary.

    Now, whether fiduciary duty to shareholders takes moral precedence over other things, is a whole different kettle of fish.

  2. Stepping back from dollars and cents, the moral question is one that is largely unsettled in modern society and is, at its root, basically one of the main distinguishing divides between collectivist minded people vs. individualist minded people (at a rough approximation, that kinda sorta may be maps out to left and right in modern American politics, except left/right is a pretty abysmal way of classifying people, you can visit Politics.SE for explanation of why and what to do instead :)

    • From a moral standpoint that is more collectivist minded, the high level goal of achieving equality/diversity for all women is more paramount. Insofar as hiring you at a higher salary helps that goal, what was done is "moral".

      This could be challenged morally as being "the ends justify the means" approach, but again, different moral/ethical systems would see it differently.

    • From a moral standpoint that is more individualist minded, what was done was a clear case of gender discrimination, and no matter what the reasons/excuses for it (fiscal benefit to the company, or achievement of some lofty societal goal), it's still immoral on balance. You treat people unequally in discriminatory way.

      If you feel that it's not, you can perform the following two gedunkenexperiments, to explain to you why you might. Imagine two situations:

      1. You get hired at a company and find out you and all other women get paid less than men with identical qualification - despite asking for same salary. Women get told they can't be paid so much, men don't. Would you care for what justification the management or society offered for that? Would you still care if you realized that the extra salary for men means women get paid LESS salary than they could be, since compensation is a finite zero-sum pool?

      2. You have a son. He grows up, goes to work at a company, and finds out he was in the situation your co-workers are in. Would you consider the situation moral and ethical for your son (as opposed to your unknown current coworkers)?

Just to be clear, the answer takes as axyom what you stated in the question, that at least some pay discrepancy is ONLY because you're female, and not due to your superior skills/knowledge/productivity or even negotiating skills (in other words, if a male of your skills asked for same high salary, they would be told "no"). If that's NOT actually the case, my answer wouldn't apply.


If we accept that there is nothing morally wrong in offering more money to women than equally qualified men, then we must accept that other company hires only men, for the same reason. After all, it is a private bussines and the propietors can use the policies that pleases their ideology.
I don't understand how many people can claim against women's glass roof and approve those practices. On the other side of the coin, the company that pays you more for the same work has a competitive disadvantage, so this situation only can endure as your boss or your company have a strong commitment to gender ideology regardless of the economic considerations.

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    Or, it can continue as long as they don't have many opportunities to enforce this policy.
    – employee-X
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 0:40
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    -1 because this is wrong. A private business can only use their policies to please their ideologies to a point. If you flip it to say "we wont hire women because women should be in the kitchen" then you've got a business-ending lawsuit waiting for you. Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 3:48
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    @DavidGrinberg It's not matter of wrong and right. It's merely a matter on when do we draw the arbitrary line on how private a private business is. It's like there is nothing wrong in one country having drinking age of 17 and another of 21. It's merely a custom, based on some hard facts, but primarily opinion-based. If it is a country with such laws, then owner should go your way, if not then it's Apocatastasis' way. But each of them is right in a certain context.
    – Agent_L
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 13:57
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    @DavidGrinberg the OP asked for the morality of the act, not for the legal consecuences. There is a difference. People that can't distinguish between law and morals is unable to understand civil resistance. Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 14:34
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    @gnasher729 - that is utter nonsense. She is more valuable to the team because she has a vagina? Also, incestuous? Do you even know what that means?
    – Davor
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 15:13

We need female software engineers. Because they might have insights in parts of the software engineering process such as the UI that male software engineers don't.

Let's put it this way: consumers of apps are both male and female but given the supermajority of male engineers, apps are implicitly designed with male consumers in mind. Obviously, that's an issue and an issue where you can help make a difference.

Men probably learn differently than women and if this is the case, computer courses are probably male-centric i.e. geared to the way men learn. And if the CS courses are male-centric on how the teaching is approached, it's probably no big surprise that most of the graduates with a CS major are male.

These employers who want diversity to work have to make an explicit effort to make it work. They shouldn't make it work for the sake of making it work, they should make it work because their business benefits from making diversity work. Diversity should not be treated as an afterthought but as a worthwhile initiative that pays off in business terms.

They are offering you the extra money because it is hard to find good female software engineers, and they get most likely are aggressively poached since the supply of female software engineers is not exactly plentiful. Getting you in through the door as an employee is only one phase of the battle for your employer. Holding on to you after they've hired you is a high priority for them.

That's why they pay you the big bucks: hiring you doesn't mean a thing to them unless they can keep you. The bigger bucks that you are earning are evidence that they want to hold on to you.

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    @RCarpenter, what he is trying to say is that females generally think more along the lines of another female, rather than another male. He is not saying that "All females think in the same way", as you accused him of... It is quite obvious to me what Vietnhi meant to say, and even more so after his clarification. You seem to be looking for things to disagree with...
    – Prodnegel
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 20:41
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    @RCarpenter I see what you're saying, but the more diverse your workforce is, the more diverse their insights are likely to be. Having all white men between 25 and 35 years of age doesn't necessarily mean you can't produce a great product with a wide appeal, but it's a hell of a lot less likely than with a more diverse workforce
    – Kat
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 0:29
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    Can you explain what kind of mental/logical/other skills all male engineers lack that every female engineer possess so that they might have insights in parts of the software engineering process such as the UI that male software engineers. Just curious whether male engineer has any way of somehow getting this skill? Will a sex-change operation help or there is basically no treatment? Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 0:36
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    i agree with this answer - the only thing i might add is that because female engineers bring insights that can expand an app's reach, they are inherently adding more value to the app. because one's wages should reflect the amount of money one brings into the company, the wages of a female can be justifiably be higher.
    – bharal
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 15:04
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    If you want to discuss gender in the workplace, discrimination, reverse discrimination, diversity, etc, use chat -- there's already a room created from this thread, or you can use The Workplace Chat. Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 18:49

There are a million different reasons why even the same type of people (same sex, race, experience, education) get different salaries. It could be anything - one skill that you have that no one else has, the time you were hired being a time when they couldn't find anyone and had to up their offer to get candidates, the hiring manager just seems to like you, etc, etc. There are literally hundreds of reasons why salaries differ. I've had plenty of jobs where the salaries people were paid made no sense - there just seems to be no rhyme or reason.

That being said, it is ethical for a company to pay someone more when that someone is something (whatever it is) that the company sees value in? I don't think so. If all of your co-workers were exactly the same as you in every way but you got paid more and your employer said they are paying you more simply because they thought you'd be a perfect fit and really wanted to hire you - would you question that? A company is allowed to pay anyone anything they like if they think it is worth it. If they were paying you less just because you are a woman (which I'm sure happens), I would consider that ethically wrong.


It's a fact that in many places, your salary may be different from someone else's salary who is in a similar position, to a great extent due to your negotiation skills when you started your job. If you managed to get a higher salary, good for you. Don't worry about it. None of your colleagues would worry if they had a higher salary than you.

If you worry, consider these: One, the recruiter might have told you a story. He or she basically said "we shouldn't really be paying you what you asked for, but we do for some exceptional reason", which you could interpret "be glad to get what you have, and don't ask for raises". This might be a complete lie, and you are just getting the going rate.

Two, it is a fact that few women apply for software development jobs, so you might be the only woman in that team. And it may very well be that there are qualities missing in a team that has no women at all, and adding the first woman would improve the team significantly. So it would make sense to offer more money to the first woman to make her join the company. The second woman might not get the same advantage.


Consider the fact that having more diverse workplace is beneficial for business.

If the company is eager to give you little bit more, it means that they need gender balance. I am almost sure that their female-to-male proportion is too low. Discrimination is when company doesn't care for balance and in the same time treat one group better than the other. If the balance is in place there would be no reason to pay any group more, so it would be the case of discrimination.

Consider following: police in some area concentrate on hiring racial minorities, which would likely result in less racial profiling by police officers or more trust from minorities. From the perspective of single person from racial majority group it would be considered discriminatory, but from the perspective of society is both beneficial and justified. The same would be the case if school would propose better salary for men, because it needed male teachers, especially for physical education and also because it needed gender balance.

Could it be illegal? I believe in some jurisdiction even private companies are obliged to not discriminate against some groups (gender, religion, race) but in the other affirmative action is legal and encouraged. I think in Poland it is legal to choose one gender if you have some valid reason - for instance for modeling or acting. I think balancing proportions is also valid reason. Is it ethical? If you think from the business and society perspective, it is ethical to build balanced workplace, even if it means you have to give little bit more for some group.

  • Discrimination is not the lack of commitment with "balance". Discrimination is blocking the access to equally qualified personnel based in circumstances foreign to capacity to work. Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 14:50
  • @Apocatastasis I think this definition is to broad and would make any affirmative action impossible.
    – DDT
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 15:27
  • If you give the same opportunity to male and women you aren't discriminating anyone. Discriminate is different to "not taking affirmative actions". Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 18:56

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