The Case for Women in Tech
Established evidence and countless stories — yet the statistics remain startling.
Women played a monumental role in the growth of technology since the inception of the very first computers. Ada Lovelace was suspected to be the first individual to develop an algorithm intended to be executed by a computer. Grace Hopper was the first to design a compiler for a computer programming language. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, women dominated the computing landscape.
And yet, today only about 35% of technology jobs for the top 5 tech companies were filled by women. According to Pew Research, a mere 25% of the computing workforce is comprised of women.
How can this be? How could the technology sector, that revolutionized the world as we know it, lose the demographic who lead its charge?
There may be no singular answer, but one motive remains clear. Today’s women in tech consistently report that they feel undervalued, treated unfairly and met with career dead-ends when compared to their male colleagues.
While the evidence showing the disparity between men and women in tech remains consistent, I know from personal experience the artificial trials women must face in the technology field.
I’ve personally witnessed women disregarded in the tech field a countless number of times.
During my first computer science classes in 2015, I recall sitting in auditoriums filled with hundreds of men and maybe only a few dozen women. My first internship was composed of roughly 20 male teammates and two female teammates(who were both interns). At one point all interns were given an hour session for a Q&A with the executive team which was composed of 8 later-aged white men. The talk was going perfectly well, until my coworker stood up to ask a question. An older aged woman who had been an intern at the company for more than a year, she asked a simple question.
“What is this company doing to promote women into leadership roles?”
At that moment, with nearly 20 minutes left in the talk, two of the executives left the room. The mediator began to stutter as he threw fluff into the air.
“Uh, well we care a lot about our women. We want them to lead, and we think that’s inherent to this company itself. It’s uh, something we are very proud of. Does that answer your question?”
I was appalled.
There were follow-up questions focusing on diversity and inclusion. With each question, another executive left the room. I’ve heard counterarguments to this problem such as women not being inherently meant to be in leadership positions, or that they are not naturally attracted to STEM fields.
This behavior not only maintains the disparity of women in tech, it encourages this toxic cycle. In my last four technology positions, the team makeup has been the following.
- First: 20 male engineers, 2 female interns.
- Second: 15 male engineers, 1 female intern.
- Third: 5 male coworkers, 3 female coworkers.
- Fourth: 30 male engineers.
My third internship had particular weight. It was easily one of the most inviting and collaborative experiences I have had to date. One of the senior scientists was a mother of two and pushed for adequate time off including taking your time for lunch or an afternoon break. I often did some of my most productive work in the least amount of time in this environment.
Not just that, but the team was superbly educated as well. Every woman had at least a graduate degree — I was always learning something new. The diversity to our team also resulted in a broad range of discussions, a breath of fresh air from the “bro talk” I had become accustomed to while developing software.
Without the need to recite a spew of statistical references, I definitively felt a more productive and collaborative working environment when the team I worked with shared a collectively diverse range of backgrounds and perspectives. Comparatively, it makes other homogeneous working environments all the more stale.
My experience isn’t an anomaly. Diversity in leadership has consistently been linked to higher profit rates. After surveying over 1,700 companies, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found a statistically significant correlation between the diversity of management teams and overall innovation. Companies that reported above-average diversity on their management teams also reported innovation revenue that was 19 percentage points higher than that of companies with below-average leadership diversity — 45% of total revenue versus just 26%.
And while it’s true that it’s not realistic to obtain a perfect 50/50 distribution in every working field, as seen in the ‘paradox of working in equal countries’, I do believe there is much work to be done to make working environments at least welcoming to women. At a minimum, women should feel comfortable in choosing the career of their choice.
The road ahead..
The struggle to combat the status quo is notoriously stretched. The primary takeaway is that despite women being at the epicenter of early computing, it is essential that the process of promoting diversity and inclusion in the tech sector be an active pursuit. Here are some directly applicable action items you can take yourself to help women bring their talent back to the tech field.
- Acknowledge the disparity — you can’t tackle a problem unless you know there is one in the first place.
- Know your history — if you need proof that there is a disparity, read a few books (here is a great list) and formal research papers if you really need convincing.
- Speak up — whether it’s a small joke to keep an especially obnoxious guy in check, or a more serious incident where you need to speak with HR, do your part and defend a fair working environment.
- Support young women — donate to women-centered hackathons or talk to your company about hosting a program such as Girls Who Code.
- Fix your damn interviews — coding interviews are already notoriously broken, but at least make them socially fair! Make it mandatory to have at least one woman on the hiring list AND one woman on your hiring board. That’s right, if you don’t have a woman to fill this spot you’re already behind the game!
Despite the backwards steps in the early 21st century, the public is remembering the capability and potential of women. There simply is no excuse for software teams composed of exclusively men. It causes unconscious bias and an unrealistic grasp of the world that often translates directly to products.
So, what are you waiting for? Find a way to support women in computing today!