Just about everywhere you look these days there’s another story about the gender gap which exists in the technology industry. News outlets often jump on flavor-of-the month topics, but this story is different in that real change is happening, with most of that change happening in tech start-ups, not only in Silicon Valley, but in other areas where tech is a growing industry.
Understanding the Gender Gap
Today women lead only 3% of tech startups and account for only 4% of senior venture partners. Whether it’s as security specialists, coders, developers, strategists, or writers, the lack of professional women is one of tech’s biggest problems. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up under 20% of software developers, making it a major concern on a number of fronts.
Software developers earn a median salary of over $90,000 per year, and underrepresentation by women in this and other well-paying tech jobs is troubling, given the 78 cents women still earn for every dollar earned by men. In addition, when women avoid tech careers it has an impact on tech companies’ growth, as the labor pool to draw from is smaller.
Funding the Change
The gender gap issue is also an ethnicity issue and an economic issue, and every one of these issues involves every one of us. If you are a woman seeking a job, if you have a daughter or niece who will one day enter the workforce, or if you’re just generally concerned about your area’s economic future, women’s capability to be equal technology partners matters. A study sponsored by workforce diversity leaders Ernst & Young and the Diana Project, resulted in a report by Babson College in 2013 that gender bias reveals itself in the patterns of venture capital investments. So it isn’t just hiring practices that have to change, but funding practices as well.
It’s pretty clear by now this a complicated issue that will not be solved overnight or with a magic wand. While several reports issued this year show that the gender gap in Silicon Valley is actually widening, there are mavericks in the area who are doing their part to set things right.
The Gender Gap Game-changers
Salesforce, a cloud software company, is one such company. Co-founder and chief executive Marc Benioff one day came to the realization that his company was a part of the problem – the management meetings he was participating in were filled solely with men. He decided to do something about it, and in 2013 started Women’s Surge, with the goal of achieving 100% equality for women and men in pay and promotions. He also wanted to ensure that at least one-third of management meeting participants were women. Benioff knows Salesforce has a long way to go, but believes gender equality should be one of the top priorities for every CEO in the country.
The biggest tech players are finding it more difficult to react quickly to the gender gap dilemma. While tech firms like Google, Twitter and Facebook publicly report their diversity data, this year Pinterest took it one step further by publicly setting diversity goals for 2016. That passes as radical in the tech industry. Pinterest’s short-term goals are to increase non-engineering roles to 12% underrepresented backgrounds (note white or Asian); increase full-time engineering roles to 30% women and 8% underrepresented backgrounds; and ensure at least one woman is interviewed for openings in leadership positions. Small numbers, but a start.
Many in the industry believe greater strides in closing the gender gap will come not from the old tried and true way – rising through the (male-dominated) ranks – but from female entrepreneurs starting their own firms. In the past decade, there’s been a 57% increase in the number of women-owned firms with $10 million or more in revenue. The total number of such companies still hovers at around 20%, but the growth rate is brisk. Venture capitalists also continue to increase their support of women-led companies, albeit nowhere near the rate they fund men.
Another innovative approach that is gathering steam is attempting to automate hiring. Start-ups like Entelo and GapJumpers believe software can do a more effective and efficient job of non-biased hiring than people can, and many established headhunting firms like Korn Ferry are also buying into the idea.
The Key of Cultural Evolution
There are a great number of initiatives out there working to close the gender gap within the tech industry. Engineering schools run programs that enable women to become software engineers in 10-weeks, and networking events and organizations offer girls and women the hand up they need. Closing the gender gap is not a problem that will be solved in a short amount of time, but through tech industry culture changes, proactive initiatives and early encouragement of girls to enter the computer science fields, it’s something that can certainly improve.