Closing the Technology Gender Gap

There is an ongoing, highly visible shortfall in quality technologists; unemployment in technology remains at staggering lows all across the country (just 2.7% as of Q1 2014), and can be downright comical in certain categories (such as the 1.1% for network architects). Companies in notable innovation hot-spots are enduring great difficulty in filling key roles, which has caused a sustained rise in salaries and benefits (with Engineering and Computer Science graduates now boasting the highest starting salary of any degree program in the nation). The industry is in desperate need of a larger pool of engineers as the economy and job market continue to expand, and there has never been a better time to consider a career in technology. Unfortunately, many talented and capable people are staying out of the market for cultural and institutional reasons, including a large number of people from over half of the population: women.

According to CompTIA, women now account for only 24% of the total American technology workforce. And most alarmingly, that figure is on a downward trend! The workforce has always been generally and historically hostile to women, but technology is particularly bad. A greater-than-average number of entrepreneurs and leaders in the field are men (despite evidence that they are more successful than their male counterparts), and there is a statistically significant promotional and mentorship bias against women; furthermore, many young technology companies are renowned for their fraternity-like culture (staff parties, free alcohol, and an informal leadership style) that can be unfriendly to women. As said by Kieran Snyder, the CEO of Textio, “it’s an industry where men far outnumber women, where the women who do stay are often pushed toward non-technical roles, and where the bro-grammer ethos creates a culture that is particularly hostile to mothers with young children. It’s easy to see why so many women leave tech to do other things.” For many years, the intensely-male culture of technology had been overlooked or underplayed, but the issue is recently getting sustained and meaningful attention thanks to the tireless efforts of people and organizations that seek to correct the imbalance.

The shortage of women in technology, however, extends beyond just the workplace, as only 12% of Computer Science degrees were awarded to women in 2011 (which is an all-time low, with the historical high being only 37.1% in 1984). This downward progression is also likely to continue, as pre-collegiate polling of students shows a continued downward trend of women interested in technology. A contributing factor to this trend is an ongoing cultural bias against the allure of technology; according to a 2005 study by the National Center for Women and Information Technology, young women consistently rank computer scientists as socially unfavorable and the profession as creatively uninteresting. Meanwhile, pre-collegiate computer science education does little to present technology as a creative opportunity, and there can be some cultural pressure, both in the home and in the school, for women to pursue more “womanly” professions.

It will be very important for the long-term growth of the industry that more effort is given to bringing women into the fold. An overly homogenized culture can be crushing to an innovation-centered industry, and the positive impact of workplace diversity is well documented. Furthermore, the number of technology roles that need filling will only continue to increase, and avoiding outsourcing will require a significantly expanded workforce. Fortunately, organizations such as Women in Technology and the National Center for Women and Information Technology are working hard to improve technical education and professional opportunities for women. Additionally, there now exist a number of incubators and innovation groups that focus on women entrepreneurs and engineers, such as SheStarts, Latinas in STEM, and Women’s Startup Lab. When the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, released her now-famous book “Lean In” in 2013, the volume on the national conversation was effectively turned up. I can only hope that we see those educational and professional statistics reverse in the coming years; technology (and society) are depending on more women in tech!