Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Gender in tech has been a hot-button issue for a long time. Traditionally seen as a very male-dominated field, the world of technology hasn’t always been exceptionally diverse or welcoming to women. However, it appears that things are changing, and there is an increasing balance in gender in the tech industry today. Women represent a more significant proportion of people in tech than ever before, although the numbers are still not equal. In 2022, nearly 33% of tech workers will be women, an increase of over two percentage points from 2019. Of these, 25% work in technical roles. Representation of women is slowly and steadily increasing, but female diversity in technology has some way to go.
The number of women in technology has grown, but employers may need to do more to keep them rising. Additionally, while overall numbers have increased, it’s also essential to pay attention to women in senior roles, who only made up 24% of total senior positions in 2019.
Multiple factors affect whether women find success in the tech industry. Issues ranging from which degrees men and women earn, career retention, workplace culture, and even the COVID-19 pandemic have all affected gender diversity in tech, whether for better or worse.
What is diversity?
Before we continue, we should briefly understand what diversity means within the broadest sense.
When we talk about diversity, what comes to mind? For many of us, diversity is about race and ethnicity. It’s about understanding and respecting differences in culture, background and experience.
However, diversity is much more than that. It’s about inclusion, about feeling comfortable and accepted in an environment that values your unique perspectives and contributions. When we embrace diversity, we open ourselves to new ideas and ways of looking at the world. We also gain a better understanding of our own culture and identity. And gender plays a key part in that evolution.
How Far Have We Come?
The diversity of gender in tech has changed in multiple ways over the years. Perhaps surprisingly, women earned more than a third (37%) of bachelor’s degrees in computer science in 1985. However, after the home computer became more accessible, this number dropped. Today, only 18% of US computer science bachelor’s degrees are awarded to women.
There have been some impressive women in technology over the years. While many of them haven’t had the attention they deserved, there has been a concerted effort to highlight them in recent years, including with major motion pictures. But, although individual women have managed to do incredible things, the overall snapshot of gender diversity in tech has generally looked bleak. Things started well for women, from manufacturing computers during the Second World War to key tech roles for women in the 1960s. But, unfortunately, the tech world would soon shift, and women became less visible.
Some statistics suggest that there has been an increase in women in tech in the last few years. However, looking at the bigger picture implies that the proportion hasn’t changed much. The number of women in tech roles has been hovering at around 25% for years, give or take a couple of percentage points. It seems that encouraging more women to enter tech and stay in the industry is an uphill battle. The turnover rate for women in tech roles is almost twice as high as for men at 41%, compared to 17%.
What has changed?
So what has changed for women in the tech industry? One sure thing is that there have been many initiatives and campaigns to try and encourage more women into the technology industry and make changes to help them stay there. Additionally, many individual companies are making an effort to close the gap. For example, Patagonia, Deloitte, and Netflix have all introduced measures to try and keep women in tech. One of the ways these companies are changing things in practical ways is to ensure the provision of paid parental leave and other benefits for parents, considering women still overwhelmingly take on the role of primary carer.
What Does This Mean for Men?
Many factors affecting the lack of women in tech show that it’s an issue that men need to be concerned with too. Male-dominated workplaces are a significant factor in themselves, with 74% of women working in computer jobs saying in a 2017 Pew Research Center poll that they had experienced gender discrimination at work. Women also say that male-dominated workplaces pay less attention to gender diversity and cause them to feel like they have to prove themselves some or all of the time.
But why should men care? Apart from having general care and compassion for their fellow humans, there are some good business reasons to care about women in tech. Companies led by women have typically performed three times better than those with male CEOs. By failing to assist women in tech, everyone in the industry could miss out.
In 2021, co-author of ‘Women in Tech: A practical guide to increasing gender diversity and inclusion’ highlighted men’s important role in helping achieve gender parity in tech. In a satirical article on the release of her book, she insisted on passing the baton to men, saying “we know you recognise that if we get the numbers of women to parity in the IT professions we will go a long long way to fixing the IT skills shortage in the UK. We also know that you know that when organisations have a diverse mix of employees, they get better revenue figures, share prices, productivity and innovation”.
Critical Issues Affecting Women in Tech
There are multiple issues affecting women in tech and still presenting barriers that make it difficult for women to maintain a foothold in the industry. In addition to a lack of women in tech roles, fewer women are getting technology degrees such as computer science, even though women gaining STEM degrees has risen. As a result, only 38% of women with a computer science degree go on to work in the field, according to the National Science Foundation, compared to 53% of men.
A lack of representation contributes to fewer women in tech too. Fewer opportunities for mentorship and sponsorship and an “unconscious gender bias in company culture” are two things that can result from this. Workplace culture is another significant factor making things difficult for women in tech. According to TrustRadius, 72% of women said they have worked for a company where “bro culture” is “pervasive”. In addition, most tech women report feeling they have to work harder than their male counterparts and are much more likely to view gender bias as an obstacle to promotion.
Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has created further issues for gender equality in tech. For example, women have reported higher burnout levels than men and have reported taking on extra responsibilities at work in higher numbers than men. In addition, more women have taken on more childcare responsibilities, and women in tech are nearly twice as likely to have lost their job during the pandemic than men.
There may still be far to go in increasing gender equality, but many positives have come from various initiatives to change the landscape. Tech companies have shown the power of taking steps to move towards gender parity. For example, mandatory training on unbiasing the hiring process has been linked with increased female hires.
Flexible work is a popular benefit among tech companies but is particularly attractive to women. As a result, companies with an official flex-time policy have more women in tech jobs, although few companies track flex-time usage by gender. However, those tracking by gender see a more significant representation of women in tech, especially black and Latine women.
Although the pandemic has negatively impacted women in tech in several ways, the growth of remote working has also resulted in a significant shift. For example, 80% of women say that the ability to work remotely is one of the most important factors when choosing a job.
Intersectional pay audits have been linked to increased hiring rates for women in tech. Companies that carry out intersectional pay audits that look at gender and race/ethnicity have 1.3x more new women hires, 1.9x more black women hires, and 1.8x more Latine women hires. More companies are also beginning to offer formal career sponsorship programs for women, leading to increased representation.
Gender Diversity in Senior Tech Roles
One issue that is often highlighted when discussing women in tech is getting women into senior roles and C-suite positions.
Just one in four startups has a female founder, 37% have at least one woman on the board of directors, and just over half have at least one woman in an executive position. Women in senior leadership positions have increased in number, rising from 21% to 24% between 2018 and 2019. This suggests that women in leadership are roughly on par with women in tech roles. However, men are more than twice as likely to say that it’s expected they will be promoted to an executive position. Women often feel that they need to prove themselves more to get promoted.
Although a slight increase in women in tech roles has been seen in the last few years, there’s still a long way to go. The tech industry needs to make great strides to create more momentum and ensure the numbers keep increasing. This will require significant changes in culture, attitudes, hiring, and business practices.