The Gender Gap is Hurting the Tech Industry: It’s Time to #BreaktheBias Now
The gender gap in the technology sector is narrowing, but not nearly as fast as it should be. Women in tech have a long way to go for equal representation, especially in leadership positions. Several of the leading companies in the United States still have only one woman for every four tech roles.
The current landscape demands better representation. As our lives become increasingly intertwined with technology, the gaps in representation become increasingly apparent. Case in point: early developments of vehicle air bags were tailored for male bodies, which resulted in avoidable loss of lives among women in car crashes. That’s one example among countless, and the takeaway is clear: Women need a voice in the technological advancements of today and tomorrow.
Of course, increasing representation is not only about making the world safer and more user-friendly for all. Equal representation also brings diversity of thought and perspective to business decisions, which is, unquestionably, a competitive advantage.
One of the big barriers to women in tech is at the education level. Historically, more men than women have chosen to pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). More than half of bachelors degrees are awarded to women, but the majority of these are still in areas outside of STEM. Research indicates that only around 20% women pursue degrees in the fields of computer sciences, engineering and physical sciences.
To be clear, this is not for a lack of skill. Mathematics is seen as key for success in the STEM fields, and girls in high schools, on average, are matching or exceeding the achievements of their male counterparts. Girls are earning credits in math and sciences at the same rate as boys, and even earning higher grades. Girls in high schools also tend to hold themselves to a higher standard than boys with similar achievements, as they believe they must be exceptional to succeed in a male-dominated field.
Statistically, the change occurs at the college level. The implicit bias that science and math fields are for people who identify as males and humanities and arts fields are for people who identify as females persists to this day, even among those who would like to think they reject gendered stereotypes.
What needs to happen
Even the smallest of changes at the college level can help alter this perception. Introductory courses that give a broader perspective of the field are more likely to attract female students. Similarly, an increase in female faculty in the STEM fields can also attract higher rates of female students, for the powerfully simple reason that representation matters. To that end, colleges should make efforts to attract and retain female academics. Historically, female academics have higher rates of attrition due to a variety of reasons, including unsatisfactory workplaces, unfair pay or treatment, and imbalanced pressures of familial obligations.
Women entering the workplace would also benefit from mentors who can help them navigate pitfalls. Having women in leadership positions who have successfully treaded that path can help motivate other young women to follow in their footsteps.
There has been a noticeable change in perception with respect to women in tech, but that needs to convert into an increase in the actual hiring of female workers. Even at the first opportunity for a promotion, there is a gender gap, with only 38% of women making up first-level managers. Organizations also need to hire women to leadership roles early, as that allows for diversity and inclusion in the company’s culture. Tech companies also need to refrain from restricting women to routine and mundane tasks that show they’re diligent but do not help them express their strategic skills.
As President and Chief Product Officer of a leading technology company, I understand the impact women can have, despite myriad barriers. Removing those barriers means mitigating bias and viewing equal representation not as a PR stunt rather but as an investment in innovation, creativity, and positive business outcomes.
Women in leadership positions in science and engineering companies have only marginally grown in the last two decades, but the pace of change must ramp up dramatically. If not, it could take more than a decade – or even far longer – for equal representation and pay parity, and neither women – nor the sector itself – can afford to wait.