How Do We Close The Gender Gap in Technology?

Gender Gap

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.

Gender GapSoftware 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.
The Book Foundation

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It’s Time to Rally Support for Women in Technology

Women in Technology

The subject of women in technology, or more precisely, the dearth of women in technology, is everywhere in the news these days. At a certain point, one can become numb to the statistics bandied about – the small percentage of the tech work force made up by women; the dramatic drop in college women who are majoring in computer sciences; and the lack of recognition for women’s contributions to the field. It’s as if an entire gender is walking about with a big dark cloud over its head.

All is not gloom and doom though. There’s a whiff of hope in the air lately, as it appears the industry is beginning to rally around the idea that more women are needed in the tech world, and they need to be encouraged from a very young age to envision a place for themselves in that world. It isn’t just about gender equality, either.

Two of the most important facts that support a push for more women in technology are that women make up a larger section of the tech user base than men, and that gender diversity in teams leads to more successful firms. While it’s still an uphill battle, a number of trailblazers are coming forth to lead the charge. Here’s a look at some of the areas of action they feel are top priority.

MAKE THE CASE FOR WOMEN IN TECH

When more women are hired in design, management and leadership positions, a healthier workplace results. Corporations need to be educated on how to shift their male-dominated cultures, as it’s well-established that a diverse workplace not only achieves better results, but more accurately reflects a company’s customer/client base. A good example of this is the City of Sacramento partnering with Microsoft to encourage girls to get into the technology fields.

IMPROVE EDUCATION

One of the biggest challenges remains in getting young girls to see technology careers being worth pursuing. That’s tough, when most of the attention and focus tends to be on the men in the industry. The media does cover women in tech who head up big companies, but it rarely gives space to women who are starting up their own tech companies, writing code and creating software.

Pink-collar occupations, such as teaching and nursing, are not to be dismissed, but girls need to be encouraged to pursue the higher incomes that engineering and computer science can offer. Organizations like CodeEd, a Boston-based non-profit that teaches various aspects of computing to girls, are leading the charge. Another innovator is Code First: Girls, a London initiative that offers free coding courses to female graduates. If it’s change we’re looking for, it’s imperative to raise girls’ awareness of the opportunities that exist for them and to reverse the negative perception they have of the tech field.

CHAMPION ROLE MODELS

The technology field is certainly not lacking in role models – it’s just that those role models have traditionally been left out of the public narrative. That is changing and as more positive narratives are presented to both girls and, importantly, their parents, we will hopefully see a shift in attitudes and career choices made by young women as they enter college or university.

Nora Poggi’s documentary, She Started It, tells the stories of female tech entrepreneurs and offers young women a look at what a career in technology can mean for them. Poggi hopes the film empowers young girls by exposing them to inspirational women in technology who look just like them.

FUND WOMEN’S START-UPS

In 1981, the first multi-million dollar Silicon Valley startup went public. The company, ASK Computers, was unable to raise funding from venture capitalists, so the founder self-invested. That founder was a woman, Sandra Kurtzig, who started out as a home-based, part-time software programmer and a few years later launched her technology company’s IPO. Not much has changed in the 30-plus years since, as women continue to find it nearly impossible to attract financial backing. Female entrepreneurs need to be encouraged into startups, and that encouragement needs to come in the form of the same money that is invested in men.

A step in the right direction are events like Lady’s Pitch Night, a partnership between Girls in Tech, Go Daddy and YouNoodle that hopes to level the playing field. The San Francisco gathering brings together innovative female business leaders, engineers, designers and investors to explore the best in technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.

While all of these steps forwards are promising, they are still not enough. If we want to see more young girls and women embrace technology as a career path, we’ll need to stay focused on some core principles, including becoming more accepting of women in the tech workplace. The best way to do this is through encouragement, opportunity, and continued support.


The Book Foundation

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A Bright Future For Women in Tech

Women in Tech

Great changes are happening inside the tech industry, as more and more women enter a playing field that’s been under a lot of scrutiny these past years for its male-centric workforce. No longer just a man’s sport, women are stepping up to the plate and realizing that, not only do they belong in the tech game, they can be the heavy hitters.

No great movement happens in a vacuum and it’s just as true for women in tech as everywhere else. While celebrating the advances by today’s leaders and trailblazers, it’s worth looking back at the women in tech who brought us to this point.

Most historical accounts start with Ada Lovelace, credited as the world’s first computer programmer. There is even a day named for her and every October 12th, techies around the world celebrate the role women have played in tech. Ada may be the best known, but she is not by a longshot the only woman who devoted her smarts and career to early technological gains.

Jean Jennings Bartik broke into the then new field of computer science when she got a job working on the ENIAC for the U.S. Ballistics Research Lab in the 1940s. A brilliant mathematician, she had been working on rocket and cannon trajectories calculations when a job was offered on the new machine. The concept there could be a device that might make hand calculations obsolete was all she needed to know and she quickly applied for the position. She and five other female mathematicians went on to create programs for the world’s first general-purpose computer.

Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, who died in 1992, was known by many for her television appearances, including on the David Letterman Show. The women who had worked on the ENIAC joined up with Grace, a tenured math professor who was also a member of the Navy Reserve during the war. They all worked together on the UNIVAC, one of the first major commercial computers, developing the programming language COBOL, which allowed programmers to use words instead of numbers. The innovation was a huge breakthrough because it marked the point where the software became more important than the hardware, as the software could now travel from one machine to a different machine.

Shortly after this time, the number of women majoring in computer science began to dramatically decline, a fact commonly attributed to the sense the job was not seen as important, particularly to men. When Steve Jobs and Bill Gates came on the scene with their PC’s, computer science degrees suddenly rose in popularity and the common wisdom became that boys who liked monkeying around with hardware were better suited to the field than girls who liked math. Even though their numbers shrank, women in tech still made important strides during the “lean years” leading up to today.

In 1994, Starr Roxanne Hiltz, along with her husband, Murray Turoff, wrote the influential book The Network Nation, which is credited with defining the electronic frontier of online conferencing systems.  At a time when she was primarily known for her work in the areas of operating systems and cache performance analysis, Anita Borg in 1995 founded Systers, an electronic mailing list for women working in computer science. Prior to the list’s creation the relatively few women in the tech industry at that time were physically isolated from each other and Systers became a major unifier and a supportive source of information. Borg’s list continues to be a major force when it comes to increasing the number of women in computer science.

The first decade of the 21st century brought us Stephanie Perrin, an international expert in privacy and data protection, as well as the social impact of technology; Beth Givens, who founded the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and has written books on how individuals can protect their online privacy; Mitchell Baker, the Chairperson of the Mozilla Foundation, which promotes innovation and opportunity through its open-source project; and Limor “Ladyada” Fried, a pioneer in the field of open-source software as well as hardware hacking. Her company, Adafruit, sells do-it-yourself kits to consumers to helps them make tech-related gadgets.

This decade’s inspiring team includes women like Selina Tobaccowala of Survey Monkey, Julia Hartz of Eventbrite and Michelle Zatlyn of CloudFare. These women have all built their successes in no small part upon their predecessors’ earlier achievements and, while the current numbers may make prospects appear dim, there is actually much to be optimistic about when it comes to the future of women in tech. As more and more women enter the field (and receive recognition for their work), and as girls and young women begin to see how exciting and rewarding a life it can be, there’s no reason not to believe that the best, indeed, is yet to come.

MelroseMAC Mac

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Why is the U.S. behind when it comes to Women in Tech?

Women in Technology

I agree with the reports that represent the US as one of the most progressive democratic nations in the world and its significant headway into championing for gender equality. However, the country still lags behind other progressive countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East relation to women and their input towards the development of its technology industry. The US technology industry has always been male dominated and as much as one would expect this to change given its advocacy for women’s rights and gender equality, I believe that the situation has yet to exhibit any signs of improvement.

The National Center for Women in Technology provides that in 2013, less than 20% of bachelor’s degree recipients for computer and information sciences courses were women. This represented a decline of nearly 20% in comparison to the female bachelor’s degree recipients in the same courses in the year 1985. The unfortunate fact about these statistics is that in other industrialized nations and in developing economies of the Middle East and Asia, the representation of women in the technologies industry has been on a progressive increase. For instance, I have come across credible news sources such as The Economist, which provide that in 2014, about a quarter of technology related start-ups in the Middle East were owned by women.

On the same note, I have read reports indicating that women in European universities tend to be better represented compared with those of the US. For example, in 2012, nearly 50% of university and college students in 17 countries in Europe were women studying courses related to mathematics, engineering, computer science, the sciences and manufacturing. More so, the European workforce the share of women working in technology intensive service and production industries stood at 25 % of the total technology oriented workforce according to data from 2008 to 2010. Unfortunately, for women working in similar industries in the US, less than 10% work in engineering related roles and about 26% of the workforce in the computer and information systems related fields.

Personally, I perceive this disparity as having more to do with the American culture as opposed to women lacking a show of interest in tech fields. In essence, the US technologies industry can be considered as a mature one. As much as women tend to show great interest in science and technologies related fields, their aptitude to take up these fields as careers has been waning over the last few years. The main reasons as to why they are rejecting these lucrative careers has according to the 2008 Center for Work-Life Policy report, been attributed to excessive job pressures and hostile work environments. According to the report, more than 50% of professionally qualified women working with SET organizations quit employment citing the need to commit to their families or opt for more pleasant working environments. As such, women with great technology and science credentials have exhibited a greater inclination towards dropping out of lucrative employment contracts in comparison to men working in the same industry.

I perceive that another issue negatively impacting the involvement of American women in the technology industry is that sexism and gender discrimination in technology industries is quite rife. Most women decry the fact that technology firms show little commitment to having women work within their organizations. I have heard of reports indicating that women employees in tech firms are looked over, pushed aside and even put down while their male peers continue to accord support to each other despite exhibiting shoddy performance and below average output levels.

The mass exodus of professionally trained women from the technology industry has to be stemmed to ensure that technology firms are able to conform to calls towards inclusion and diversity in the workplace. You will agree with me that diversity, inclusion is a very important factor towards innovation, and new product development in today’s globalized markets. I champion for the elimination of sexism within technology firms and the removal of barriers that limit women’s commitment to their families while working in these fields. As such, the American society should reassess its perception of women in the technologies industry. The technology industry should also strive towards giving women due credit for phenomenal scientific abilities exhibited by women. More so, technology oriented industries should offer women competitive economic incentives that mirror those of their male counterparts in an effort to retain more women as professional tech employees.

It is however important that I point out that gender discrimination is not only limited to the tech industry in the US. It is rather rampant all over the world. There is therefore the need for the US society to champion for a cultural shift towards greater gender equality to stem this issue.

The Book Foundation


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