Women in Tech: The 3 Trends That Drove Conversations in 2021

Plus, what to expect as we head into 2022.

Written by Dawn Kawamoto
Published on Nov. 29, 2021
Women in Tech: The 3 Trends That Drove Conversations in 2021

Some of the most noteworthy developments related to women in tech this year can be summed up in three words: trickle-down theory. 

We saw important advancements in boardroom diversity, record funding for women-founded startups and progress on keynote stages, namely at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Now the hope is that these wins at the top will bring benefits for women in tech in general. 

Each of these events carries potential to increase the number of women tech leaders and broaden the number of women in tech, experts told Built In. Currently, women represent approximately 25 percent of the tech workforce, even though women overall represent nearly half of the total U.S. workforce.

3 Game-Changing Developments for Women in Tech in 2021

  • The Securities and Exchange Commission approved a request from Nasdaq that all companies listed on its tech-heavy exchange have at least one woman board member or disclose why they do not.
  • Funding for women-founded startups in the first three quarters of the year hit an all-time record.
  • Women outnumbered men as keynote speakers at the high-profile Consumer Electronics Show.

Granted, 2021 has also been marked with challenges for women in tech. Women took on an even greater share of household work during the pandemic, and more women than men reported a negative impact from remote work (41 percent compared to 23 percent), according to a 2021 TrustRadius Women in Tech report.

“There are questions whether women will be more likely to want to stay in this kind of remote engagement, and to what extent it will impact their career prospects going forward,” Kara Sprague, executive vice president and general manager of Seattle-based app-delivery firm F5 Networks, said. “I think the jury is still out on this one.”

That said, three potentially game-changing events from 2021 are expected to yield greater gender diversity in boardrooms, executive suites and in the overall tech workforce. And improvement is needed, given progress has been slow in the recruitment, retention and promotion of women in tech and filling the pipeline through education.

Women in Tech by the Numbers

More on Women in TechWomen in Tech Statistics Show the Industry Has a Long Way to Go

 

Tech Companies Eyed More Women Board Members 

Earlier this year, the Securities and Exchange Commission approved the Nasdaq’s request to require all companies listed on the stock exchange to either have at least one woman board director or disclose why there are no women on their boards. 

This is expected to have a positive effect for women in tech, as nearly half of the companies in the Nasdaq composite index are tech companies, according to Investopedia.

“I think it’s a big game changer, because we know that the representation of women on the board of directors changes the representation in the C-suite,” said Brenda Darden Wilkerson, president and CEO of tech women’s trade group AnitaB.org. “And the representation in the C-suite should change the direction of the culture around hiring and promoting a diverse workforce.”

Not only should the addition of more women at the board level at tech companies help promote diverse hiring practices, it should also help the tech industry develop more role models to entice girls to consider tech careers, said Sprague, who is a board member of Girls Who Code.

“When you have more women who are visible in these senior-level positions, like on a board, an executive team or a broader management team, it really offers role models for others,” Sprague said. “It also drives a cultural change within these companies that make it a more welcoming place for more women.”

Although the actions by the SEC and Nasdaq are expected to be a major positive development for women in tech, Wilkerson added it’s “sad” the requirement was needed to get all Nasdaq-listed companies on board with adding a woman board member versus taking it on voluntarily.

It’s also perplexing, she added, that tech companies have not wholeheartedly embraced diversity given that studies show diverse companies perform better than those that are not.

A 2020 McKinsey & Company report found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity among its executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than those in the fourth quartile.

Sprague applauded Nasdaq for adopting the gender-composition disclosure requirement for its listed companies and the SEC for accepting it.

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Funding for Women-Founded Startups Hit Record Highs

A river of greenbacks flowed to women-founded startups this year, hitting a new record, according to a PitchBook report. In the first three quarters this year, U.S. startups founded by women raised $40.4 billion, nearly doubling the amount raised during the pre-pandemic period of 2019.

The record amount for women founders is still a pittance compared to the overall $238.7 billion raised during the same period. But it’s forward movement nonetheless, and it’s expected to yield good results down the line.

“I think women founders are going to hire women and think more broadly about the impact of the work environment on the entire workforce in ways that male leadership hasn’t in the past.”

“It’s going to have a real impact,” Wilkerson said. “I think women founders are going to hire women and think more broadly about the impact of the work environment on the entire workforce in ways that male leadership hasn’t in the past.”

Indeed, U.S. tech startups that have at least one woman founder report workforces that are an average 48 percent women, according to a survey by FundersClub. That’s twice the average of U.S. tech startups with no women founders.

That percentage is also higher than those reported by major tech firms Google, which reported 31.6 percent of its workforce are women; Facebook, where 36.7 percent are women; and Apple, which reports a workforce composed of 34 percent women.

Despite the funding record, Wilkerson urged vigilance. “I don’t want us to get comfortable,” she said. “I want this to continue.”

8 Ways to Increase the Number of Women in Tech at Your Company

  • Gather gender-balance data to know where you stand.
  • Create gender-neutral job descriptions.
  • Attend women in tech events, such as AnitaB.org’s Grace Hopper Celebration and the National Center for Women & Information Technology’s NCWIT Summit.
  • Ensure women are part of your interviewing team.
  • Ensure interview rounds include diverse candidates.
  • Conduct regular pay equity reviews to attract and retain candidates. 
  • Offer mentorship and advancement programs.
  • Regularly evaluate hiring and promotion processes to eliminate bias. 

More on Women in TechHere’s What Has to Change for Women to Thrive in STEM

 

 Women Exceeded Men as CES Keynote Speakers

Another major development from the past year: Women comprised the majority of lead keynote speakers at CES 2021, marking a first for the high-profile tech event.

“That’s a pretty big deal,” Sprague said. “CES is one of the biggest events in the consumer tech world and having a strong representation of women in these very visible positions generates a set of role models and creates it as normative for everybody else.”

Of the nine keynote presentations at CES earlier this year, six included women speakers. 

Just a few years ago, CES drew significant backlash for not featuring any women among its lead keynote presenters.

“CES has been slammed in the past for not having a fair representation of women, and it’s really born out of this idea that there aren’t very many and none could be found. We hear this all the time in tech. We’ve dispelled this notion for years with our powerful keynote speakers who are women leaders. I’m so glad to see CES jumping on this trend,” Wilkerson said.

Keynote speakers at AnitaB.org’s Grace Hopper Celebration event have included Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Meta (formerly Facebook); Lisa Su, president and CEO at Advanced Micro Devices; and Ginni Rometty, former CEO and executive chairwoman at IBM.

Putting more women in the lead keynote slots of prominent events like CES has the potential to create a positive trickle-down effect, Wilkerson said. With more women on large public stages, it opens the prospect of giving more women a seat at the table where technology is advanced. 

 

A Fast-Forward Look at 2022 Game-Changers for Women in Tech

In a short time, 2022 will be here. What will be the game-changing events in the new year? Hopefully a continuation of this year’s successes. 

“I expect we’ll continue to see more movement along the direction that we have been seeing,” Sprague said. “It’ll be interesting to see the diversity metrics for companies and whether we’ve taken a step back or forward. I’m hoping we’ll see a continued expansion in the number of women in tech.”

Activism among women in tech is also expected to be a recurring theme in the new year, as it was last year, Wilkerson said.

“Last year, it was hunker down for 90 days, then 180 days, and then this is the new normal. Now, I feel we’re asking, What can we do to make those changes we talked about?”

For example, earlier this year, Meta data scientist Frances Haugen blew the whistle on company practices, alleging it had refused to make changes to algorithms despite being aware of some toxic repercussions. 

Reports also emerged this year about individuals being fired or dinged at large tech companies for raising workplace issues. Reports stated that women were impacted disproportionately, noted Sprague.

Women tech workers may become more active in taking stands on company policies, ranging from environmentalism to social and economic justice, Wilkerson said.

And in the coming year, more transformational women-in-tech events may be on the horizon as things begin to normalize. 

“I feel like we’re finally starting to get our feet back under us,” Wilkerson said. “Last year, it was hunker down for 90 days, then 180 days, and then this is the new normal. Now, I feel we’re asking, What can we do to make those changes we talked about?”

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