Statistics provide a clear, yet gloomy, picture of the current situation facing women in tech. Here are just a few thoughts to help paint that picture: women account for only one in every four jobs held in IT. Just 5% of tech startups are owned by women. Despite the fact that women are starting businesses at a rate of 1.5 times the average in the U.S., they are 86% less likely to be funded than a man. In the U.K., 16% of computer science majors are female; this is especially surprising when 74% of young girls express interest in STEM fields and computer science, showing a seismic shift in mindset in female adolescence. The rate of women in computing roles has been in steady decline since 1991.
The struggles that females face in the tech world are intensified further when one takes into account the gender gap pervasive throughout all types of business. In 2016, $1.46 billion was invested by venture capitalists into women-led companies, compared with $58.2 billion for companies led by males. In the top 100 venture capital firms, women account for a meager 7% of partners. Not only are women fighting an uphill battle in tech, but they have to contend with a disproportionate gender balance that’s already in place.
It seems perhaps that this is not a gender gap, but a gender canyon.
Despite this bleak picture, efforts are being made to counteract the disproportion. How deep does the problem with women in tech go, and are the current efforts being made enough?
Is the tech world actually more backwards than we think?
Given a recent event at tech giant Google, it appears the tech world may not be as cutting edge when it comes to human rights as we might have hoped. Google recently fired one of its engineers, James Damore, for a shocking memo he wrote in which he futilely attempted to argue that there are biological differences between men and women that make men naturally predisposed to success in tech and conversely make women poorly suited (and, it should be said, that is a very generous description of his argument – have a read yourself to see some of the other things Damore wrote). Damore’s preposterous, inflammatory, and altogether false argument cited women’s tendency for higher anxiety and an “interest in people rather than things.”
Although Damore’s sexist and illogical argument is far from rational, it does show that there are still those in tech who believe that women are intellectually less capable than men, despite it being what most would consider a forward-thinking industry. Damore was brazen enough to declare these statements, yet there are certainly more who think in the same way. The tech world, it appears, is not as advanced as we think.
A cultural divide
The shortage of women in tech may be specific to Western cultures, according to the research of Professor Dame Wendy Hall of the University of Southampton. In an article by Hannah Devlin and Alex Hern published by The Guardian, Hall describes the situation of women in tech in Asian countries: “I walk into a classroom in India and it’s more than 50% girls, the same in Malaysia. They are so passionate about coding. Lots of women love coding. There just aren’t these gender differences there.”
Hall believes a stereotype created in the 1980s could explain why men dominate technology: the male computer geek via the introduction of the personal computer. “Women were turned off computing in the ‘80s,” she says. “Computers were sold as toys for the boys. Somehow that cultural stigma has stuck in the West in a way that we can’t get rid of and it’s just getting worse. The skills gap is going to get huge.”
As if the tech world wasn’t enough, women are even less represented in executive leadership positions worldwide. In the U.S., only 23 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women – that’s 4.6%. In Europe it’s even worse, with 14 out of the largest 350 groups (that’s just 4.0%) being led by a woman. If we were to compare this with, say, the number of women in executive positions 100 years ago, this is a huge improvement - at that time the number was 0. Yet the efforts to bring more women into large companies as leaders has not been nurtured in a way to produce a fair playing field for women.
If women are not being given an opportunity to lead the world’s largest companies, it is without doubt inhibiting the amount of innovation and intellect possible. If only 50% of a population is allowed to participate in a given type of enterprise, that enterprise is missing out on a substantial portion of potential advances. By unfairly excluding women from executive leadership, enterprise is doing a disservice to both itself and the worldwide population. Without the vision to see past this stereotype, the world’s largest companies will progress at a markedly slower pace than if they allowed women the opportunity to hold executive positions.
Women are a good investment
Not only is it unfair, but holding women back from executive leadership may also be costing companies money. Research has shown that companies who appoint women in a leadership position tend to have higher profits than those that don’t, making a compelling argument for women in enterprise. The Peterson Institute for International Economics analyzed survey data from 21,980 companies in 91 countries in their report Is Gender Diversity Profitable? They found that companies with at least 30% of their C-level executives represented by women had net profits 6% higher than those with no women in the C suite.
McKinsey and Company produced a study with similar findings in 2015 that found companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above medians for their national industry. Quantopian, a trading platform, also produced a study over a 12 year period that found women CEOs produced equity returns 226% better than the S&P 500.
These studies do not necessarily mean that as soon as a company appoints a female to their executive team they will automatically start earning higher profits. What it does suggest, however, is a strong correlation between females’ presence in the leadership team and a company earning more money.
Data such as the Peterson, McKinsey, and Quantopian studies should be a strong recommendation to companies of all types and sizes that hiring women for leadership positions will be better not only on an ethical level, increasing and supporting diversity, but also for their bottom line. Tech companies should pay great attention to studies such as these, since their rapid growth puts them in a position for great potential success.
Fighting for change
There are many organizations making an effort to balance the scales with women in tech. One of the most prominent is Girls Who Code, whose mission is straightforward: to close the gender gap in technology.
Girls Who Code began in New York City in 2012 and is predicted to reach 40,000 girls in the U.S. by the end of 2017. The first pillar of its outreach is providing educational resources to young girls. Females in grades six to 12 can take free after-school classes to learn computer coding, as well as seven-week summer programs if they are 11th and 12th graders. They also become part of the Girls Who Code network, making it easier for them to eventually get a computer science degree and become part of the computing workforce.
Their mission appears to be working: according to the Girls Who Code 2016 Annual Report, 93% of Summer Immersion Program participants said that because of the Summer Immersion Program, they now want to major in or are interested in computer science, and 84% of Girls Who Code alumni said they were likely to pursue a career in technology.
Girls in Tech is an organization with a similar mission to Girls Who Code. Girls in Tech, despite its name, works hard to empower both girls and women in technology. It was founded in 2007 by Andrea Gascoigne and now has 60 chapters and 100,000 members throughout the world. It has multiple programs, including a Girls in Tech Boot Camp and a mentorship program, all of which are open to “anyone with an interest in technology, startups and providing women with a platform for growth.”
Though still somewhat in the early stages of development, organizations like these provide a starting point to give females an easier entry into the tech field, which is certainly a good place to start. However, despite this, the numbers of females in tech continue to fall.
What does the future hold?
If more effort is not made to fix the gender gap in tech, there could be a scary future ahead for women. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, as some call the recent increase in technology, promises to increase both the number of technology companies and the size of technology companies, and at a rate the world has never seen before. If women are not included in the rapid growth of tech then it threatens to ostracize them from the industry and prevent them from taking advantage of some of the best opportunities in business, undoing the work that so many have undertaken for centuries in the pursuit of gender equality.
To ensure the playing field is level, women’s involvement in tech companies must increase, and it must do so very quickly. Organizations like Girls Who Code and Girls in Tech are an excellent start, if for no other reason than to increase awareness of the issue. Yet the data does not lie, and women simply are not being given the same opportunities as men in tech jobs. Tech companies need to make a concerted effort to build their employee base with diversity as a fundamental tenant, lest women be forced to fight a battle that is even more uphill than the one they are already fighting.
The answer is simple; all anyone needs to do is ask the question.