Catalyze Seattle

Wage & Leadership Gaps

Wage & Leadership Gaps

Seattle startups exhibit gender and racial wage gaps, plus a gender leadership gap


The Seattle startup industry has a gender wage gap of at least 10% including all races. 

This excludes salaries of $200,000 and over, as we did not collect detailed salary information above this range. It is likely that the wage gap would be larger had we included higher ranges, as this is where gender wage gaps are typically the widest. 

Interestingly, only 20% of women believed that people are paid unfairly at their startup, compared to 66% that believe wages are fair. This may indicate that they are unaware of the pay gap. 


Women are typically older than men in Seattle startups

Though the average ages were quite close (37.5 years for women, 36.5 years for men), the distribution varied. More than half of the male respondents were between 25 and 34, which dropped off starkly as age increased.  Women, meanwhile, were distributed more equally throughout different ages, though still with a spike between 25 and 34. This is a key finding because women aged 25-34 are in their key childbearing years. If startups were more accessible and inclusive to parents, we could significantly improve the numbers of women in the field.  


Women are more experienced and more highly education than men in Seattle startups

Women had on average 13.5 years experience, compared to 12 years for men. Distribution also varied, with men’s work experience clustering at 5-9 years, compared to 15-19 years for women. 

With regards to formal education,16.7% of male respondents had less than a Bachelor’s degree, compared to only 3.8% of female respondents. Just over 50% of each gender had earned a Bachelor’s degree, but 44.8% of women had earned a Master’s or above, compared to 30% of men.  



Seattle startups have a racial wage gap of 15%, including all genders. 

For salaries $199,000 and under, people of color in Seattle startups earned an average of $90,130, while white respondents earned $106,000 on average—creating an annual gap of $15,870. We hypothesize that the real racial wage gap would be larger, had we been able to include all salaries, as wage gaps typically grow as salaries increase.

Anecdotal data

“I don't feel like being a man is much of an advantage for me because I am a black man.”


“At a previous startup, there were some resistance to promotion and comments [because of my race]”


“[I have witnessed a startup] paying someone from another country in on a visa less not because they were worth less but because they didn't know current market rates and the employer could get away with it.”


“I think that people may think that my race affects my work ethics, my skill level.”



Gender leadership gap found in Seattle startups

We asked respondents what percentage of staff in their startup was female at entry level, mid level, executive level, founding team, and on the board of directors. As you can see in the graphic, the percentage of women gets smaller as the staff level rises. 

43% of startups surveyed had fewer than 10% women in executive roles, with just over a third of startups having at least 25% female executives. The gender ratio of the founding team was even starker, with 66% having less than 1/10 women, and only 28% of startups had founding teams that were at least 1/4 female. 

Women also reported more than twice as often as men that people are promoted unfairly at their startup. They were also twice as likely to state that opportunities for professional development are unfairly distributed. 



“I was nearly overlooked for a promotion into a role which I had already been performing the duties of for a year in favor of a male colleague with less experience at the company and no experience in the role because he was considered to be more technical than me.”


“Been denied raises/promotions to match the level of work I was doing with no explanation as to why at all….Been told my age was a risk factor for my team because I was too young. I was actually older than all the other tech leads.”


Potential link to "prove it again bias"

These findings likely reveal the “prove it again bias” well-known in the business world, where women are judged on their accomplishments while men are judged on their potential.  This unconscious bias, though typically unintended, causes trends such as hiring younger, less qualified men while requiring women to continually prove their worth through education, work experience, or other means. It is notoriously difficult to reduce in unstructured environments. 


Many anonymous anecdotal responses given by respondents echoed this bias. 

“I have to work harder to gain respect, to be heard and for people to trust in my capabilities”

“I am not taken as seriously as a male would be. I really have to sell myself.”

“I am looked over, I have to fight in order to be heard. Whereas a man might come up with an idea and run with it, I have to justify my ideas 20x more.”