The gender pay-gap question is not a new one, and neither is gender disparity in the boardroom. Steps have been put in place to try and narrow the gap across many traditional industries—but what about the future? And, what about tech, in particular?
The Global Gender Gap Report warns about the possible emergence of new gender gaps in advanced technologies, such as the risks associated with emerging gender gaps in Artificial Intelligence-related skills. In an era when human skills are increasingly important and complementary to technology, the world cannot afford to deprive itself of women’s talent in sectors in which talent is already scarce.
Why Aren’t There More Women in Tech?
There is no one, single answer to this multi-faceted question—though there are several factors at play. First, early development is crucial. At the high school level, girls achieve better grades than boys. Yet for females who pursue computer science at the university level, they find themselves outnumbered by males eight to two, one of the highest gender disparities in course subjects. And this imbalance isn’t helped by the falling trend of females taking up science, math, and computing courses. A possible reason for why more girls don’t pursue math- and science-related degrees may be due to the ‘pinkification’ of girls at an early age. Toys, clothes, and job possibilities are still marketed towards either gender, despite recent developments in breaking this historic trend.
More Women Working, Fewer Women in Tech
While more women are in the workforce today, fewer are working in tech. In the United States, only a small number of computing jobs are held by women (37% in 1991, down to 26% in 2018). And while more women are studying today, fewer are pursuing science, math, and IT courses: roughly 40% women versus 60% men. Worldwide, women are a minority within tech leadership, accounting for less than 20% in their respective regions:
- 18.1% - North America
- 11.2% - Europe and Africa
- 11.5% Asia
- 13.4% South America
And it’s not just about technical skills. At tech companies, the general makeup of staff across all roles shows an overwhelming male majority. There are a few possible reasons for these figures, including:
- Gender Stereotypes: From an early age, the gender stereotype of “boys being better at science and math” can discourage girls from studying STEM subjects. According to the OECD, despite similar performances on its science test, more boys (1 in 5) consider a STEM career than girls (1 in 20).
- Lack of Talent pool: As shown by the decreasing figures above, fewer women are studying STEM subjects. This means that employers have a gender biased talent pool from which to recruit.
- In-Group Favoritism: According to a study in the American Sociological Review, hiring managers tend to recruit those who are culturally similar to themselves (i.e. with the same tastes, hobbies, experiences). When this is applied to the tech world, it’s easy to see how a group of male friends will recruit other males when expanding a tech start up.
- Access to Capital: Although female entrepreneurs run 30% of all small businesses, and together employ 7.9 million people and generate $1.4 trillion in sales, there still exists an underlying issue that is keeping women from being even more impactful: difficulty finding funding. Women-owned businesses receive just 7% of venture capital investment money. Additionally, the loan approval rate for female entrepreneurs is 15-20% less than it is for men.
Is it A Work Culture Problem?
According to a survey by The Guardian, 73% of people believe the tech industry is sexist, and 52% of people say they’re aware of women being paid less than men for doing the same job. And according to a report by the Center of Talent Innovation, for those who do make it into STEM positions, women are 45% more likely to leave within a year than men. Possible contributing factors include hostile “macho” culture, isolation, and the lack of effective sponsors.
Why Tech Needs Women
Gender diversity benefits companies in a number of ways. According to researchers at the University of Castilla la Mancha, Spain, gender-diverse R&D teams lead to greater creativity and better decisions—and the tech sector needs more women studying, working and sticking with tech skills to ensure there’s enough talent for the future.
+42% on return on sales: the amount by which Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of female board directors outperform those with the lowest representation on the board.
40,000: The annual shortfall of STEM skilled workers in the UK.
What’s Being Done to Ensure More Women in Tech?
Getting more women into tech roles today can help break the cycle of a male-dominated industry and fill the STEM talent demand. Currently, nearly 40% of employers that need STEM-skilled employees have reported difficulty in recruiting staff. To combat this, some initiatives that aim to increase the percentage of women in tech include:
- Improving STEM education
- Championing more female role models
- Challenging negative stereotypes
- Strengthening networking and mentoring
And there is a growing number of organizations dedicated to reversing this trend, including:
CoderDojo: Network of free, volunteer-led computer programming clubs for young people aged 7-17
Girls who code: U.S. non-profit organization that runs summer programs teaching programming skills to high school girls
I wish: Irish initiative hoping to encourage more female students into studying STEM subjects
Wise: UK non-profit organization that hopes to increase the presence of women in STEM jobs from today’s rate of 13% to 30% by 2020
Girls in Tech: Global network of groups that aims to boost the visibility of women in tech jobs by hosting events and providing employment resources
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