Let’s face it, tech still has an issue with gender diversity. The tech sector sadly lags behind the rest of the job market when it comes to hiring women. As the percentage of employed women across all job sectors in the US has grown to 47%, the five largest tech companies on the planet (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft) only have a workforce of about 34.4% women. While controversial technologies or flashy CEOs get most of the negative airtime, it’s the lack of women in the tech industry that seems to be the largest problem looming overhead.
Women in Tech Statistics: Hiring Trends
- 48% of women in STEM jobs report discrimination in the recruitment and hiring process.
- Black and Hispanic women, who majored in computer science or engineering, are less likely to be hired into a tech role than their white counterparts.
- 39% of women view gender bias as a primary reason for not being offered a promotion.
- 66% of women report that there is no clear path forward for them in their career at their current companies.
Why are many women not able to get into a managerial or technical role? One answer could be “the broken rung.” Women currently remain highly underrepresented in software engineering (14% of total workforce) and computer science-related jobs (25% of total workforce). In fact, women software engineer hires have only increased 2% over the last 21 years. Instead of talking about “glass ceilings,” we should acknowledge that women have a much larger barrier at being hired for technical entry level positions. This “broken rung” in the career ladder already puts women at a disadvantage, which leads tech companies into a cycle of hiring employees with the same gender and race (mainly white males).
Women in Tech Statistics: Workplace Trends
- 26% of computing-related jobs are held by women.
- Just 3% of computing-related jobs are held by African-American women, 6% held by Asian women and 2% held by Hispanic women.
- 50% of women said they have experienced gender discrimination at work.
- 43% of Americans believe women create a safer, more respectful work environment than men. Only 5% of Americans believe men create a safer work space.
- Positively, women’s earnings are outpacing those of men’s when it comes to high-skill jobs.
- Women were 22% more likely to experience "Imposter Syndrome" in the workplace (the overwhelming feeling of being out of place compared to colleagues)
It unfortunately gets even more discouraging for women of color in the workplace. Though Asian women, black women and Latinas report the desire to be promoted (and to be at the top of their field) more than white men or women, they’re still often promoted less. The “broken rung” is even more broken for women of color, who only make up 18% of entry-level positions, as opposed to 30% of white women and 35% of white men. We have a tough road ahead towards creating gender and racial equality in the tech workplace.
Women in Tech Statistics: Entrepreneurial Trends
- 40% of US businesses are owned by women, with 64% of new women-owned businesses being started by women of color.
- In 2016, women only received about 2% of total investor funding, and women-led businesses made up just 4.9% of all VC deals.
- Though 79% of women entrepreneurs feel more empowered than five years prior, 66% still are finding it difficult to obtain the money they need to succeed
“[Gender inequality] should shame us all in the 21st century because it is not only unacceptable, it is stupid”- UN Chief Antonio Guterres.
Covid-19 has challenged just about every notion of life, so how about women in technology? First, it’s reported that 57% of women have felt burned out from the mandatory work-from-home caused by the pandemic. This burnout, from struggling to balance being both a working professional and a functioning parent, is leading to a mass exodus of women from the workforce. In 2020 alone, 1.2 million parents exited the workforce with a staggering three-quarters of those people being women. A large portion of those who have stayed in the workforce are reporting that being behind screens has caused a regression of gender parity that was pacing in the right direction pre-pandemic. The pandemic has challenged everyone, but it seems to have hit working mothers in tech especially hard.
Women in Tech Statistics: Covid-19 & Remote Work
- Women in the tech industry were twice as likely to be furloughed or laid off than their male counterparts
- A total of 2.5 million women left the workforce in the US
- 43% of women report remote work as being a positive experience, while 42% of women have negative views
- 54% of women say that the pandemic is making it harder for them to break into the tech industry
Still, it’s not all doom-and-gloom for the outlook of women in tech. Although we have a long road until we achieve gender equality in the workplace, we’re seeing some positive trends across the tech industry. Women-only tech groups, like the FBomb Breakfast Group, are popping up all over the country. They’re acting as an important way for women in tech to meet, network, discuss the challenges and triumphs of their work and lift each other up. Parental leave is becoming an area of great importance for tech companies, that are going above-and-beyond to ensure that new mothers are also able to continue their career pursuits. Additionally, there's been a 24% increase of representation of women in the C-Suite over the past five years.
Gender diversity breeds higher quality products, companies and sectors. Different backgrounds, experiences and ideas ultimately help make any business or industry stronger. Early technology pioneer and computer scientist, Grace Hopper, once said, “The most dangerous phrase in the language is ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” She wasn’t just commenting on how using outdated knowledge is harmful to building a product. Rather, she was saying that denying new ideas, especially those from women, will ultimately do more harm than good. For an industry that praises bold ideas, the boldest idea of them all might just be to hire more women.
What Can We Do to Boost Gender Diversity in Tech?
How can the tech industry do a better job to promote gender parity in the workplace? Instead of focusing solely on women at the C-Suite level, we must put more emphasis on hiring and promoting women at the entry and managerial levels. Below are just a few ways tech could fix their “broken rung” problem to help women achieve their career ambitions.
Give Credit When it’s Due
Women, and especially women of color, mostly feel invisible at work. Studies have shown that managers are quicker to forget the achievements and statements of black women than they are to forget those of white men or women. In order to build a stronger culture, managers, co-workers and executives must constantly call out instances where a woman’s hard work is going unnoticed. An easy way to show praise and bring unnoticed work to light is to send out frequent emails or internal messages to your group highlighting ideas and projects brought about by women.
“We need to understand that if we all work on inclusion together, it’s going to be faster, broader, better, and more thorough than anything we can do on our own.”- Former Reddit CEO + Current Co-Founder of Project Include, Ellen Pao.
Require Diverse Candidate Pools for Hiring, Promotions & Board Seats
Because the tech industry is growing at a rampant pace, diversity is sometimes overlooked when it comes to hiring. Instead of gathering a high-quality pool of candidates of different genders, races and backgrounds, some companies rush to hire the first candidate they can find to fill their dire need. This hurried technique is not only wrong, but it’s also dangerous to the future of the company. Accepting more women in the interview process helps to rebuild the “broken rung” and ensures a diversity of quality ideas in the future.
The same process can be implemented in promoting and finding board members. Women are often overlooked for managerial positions because there are fewer of them in the workplace (directly caused by the “broken rung” issue). With more women hired for entry level positions, more women can also then be considered for promotions to managerial spots.
Having a diversity of opinions on tech company boards is incredibly important in today’s day-and-age. Tech companies can stay ahead of the diversity curve by making sure their board members represent current population trends in the country when it comes to race and gender (i.e. ensuring that their boards are 50% women and people of color).
Hire Based on Potential, Not Just Current Competencies and Backgrounds
The current trend of hiring based on current competencies and prior experience is hurting women in the workplace, and it can be traced back to the “broken rung” issue. Because women are currently overlooked for entry level positions, they can’t gain applicable experience as quickly as others. This immediately puts them at a disadvantage in the hiring process, since they weren’t able to gain the knowledge and network they needed.
Instead, tech companies should be hiring on the basis of potential. Companies should hire objectively based on traits like curiosity, engagement, drive, passion and insight to truly figure out who is on the fast-track for management and executive-level positions. Hiring based on future potential, rather than prior experience, levels the playing field and allows women the opportunity to move past that “broken rung” and into the positions they deserve.
Put Hiring Managers and Evaluators Through Unconscious Bias Training
Unconscious bias is one of the biggest threats to diversity in the workplace. Also known as implicit bias, unconscious biases are the underlying attitudes and stereotypes people associate with a person or groups of people. These can be found within almost every step of the hiring process. One of the biggest offenders of unconscious bias is assessing for “culture fit.” Here, candidates are judged whether they’ll get along with the team and share similar interests. Since tech is still a male-dominated sector, it’s more than likely that they’ll unconsciously view other men as having a better “culture fit” for their team than a woman.
Unconscious bias training programs are designed to expose people to their biases and to provide the necessary thought exercises and tools to counteract those behaviors. These training sessions have become an important approach to fixing the issue of diversity in the workplace.
They usually consist of multiple techniques that include counter-stereotyping and perspective-taking. In counter-stereotyping for gender, trainees usually read powerful essays by women talking about their negative experiences with gender in the workplace. Additionally, employees engage in different tasks that display the challenges faced by women at work. Perspective-taking is designed to increase empathy, where trainees are tasked with viewing life from another person’s perspective. Training employees and hiring managers on unconscious bias helps create a more diverse, empathetic and aware workforce that lifts each other up.
Increase Flexible Working Options
Instituting more flexible work options is imperative to retain top talent and foster a growing pipeline of qualified working mothers. The covid-19 pandemic has pushed everyone to their limits, especially working mothers. 64% of women want to see an increase in flexible working arrangements, whether that is location (office or at-home) or work times. The 9-5 job and rigidity of staying only at-the-office or only at-home should become obsolete to help working mothers balance childcare and other personal matters with their careers.
Companies should also be more flexible with their PTO policies to try to combat an “always-on” culture. Offering flexible “Covid-19” or “Health and Wellness” days can give employees the benefit of taking off without the stigma of using personal days for when they really need a break. These days can help everyone, especially women, with burn out. Our “always-on” culture of constantly checking emails, answering calls and working long hours is also dramatically hurting women (who already think they need to work twice as hard to catch up to their counterparts). Companies that put policies in place to limit email hours, establish set meeting times or designate days as "no-meeting days" have a better chance at reducing the “always-on” culture and retaining employees.