Women in Tech: Is there a barrier to entry?
Although diversity in tech-based businesses is crucial to cater to multiple demographics, women and people of color are not evenly represented. A report from McKinsey (2020) reported that diverse companies perform better, hire better, have more employee engagement, and retain workers better than companies that do not focus on diversity and inclusion. Despite these reports, women are underrepresented in tech positions. While some argue that women are less represented in this high-paying field because they choose other careers, data suggests more convoluted reasoning. The National Science Foundation highlights that more women than ever are graduating with STEM degrees. In fact, the number of men and women earning bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering (S&E) subjects is almost equal. This disputes the claim that women are less interested in STEM than men. Hiring practices should, in theory, mirror the distribution of degrees for all STEM fields. In contrast, when looking at the tech field specifically, women earned only 19% of computer science degrees at the bachelor level in 2016, compared to 27% in 1997. Despite this decrease, the percentage of master’s degrees in computer science earned by women rose to 31% in 2016, up from 28% in 1997. A nonprofit called Girls Who Code works with young girls and reported that 74% of young girls express interest in STEM fields and computer science, but that interest is not sustained likely because of a common culture that intimidates young female students trying to explore computer science. Walking into a class taught by a male teacher, being one of the few female students, and not being included in study groups isn’t exactly encouraging. Even though fewer women are getting degrees in computer science, more of the women in tech are diving deeper and achieving extended degrees. This makes the small number of women in computer science highly qualified. Overall, more work needs to be done in making female STEM students consider computer science as a career option. Even more shocking than the degree gap, the retention gap for women in tech is abysmal. Considering the percentage of women in tech who go on to get a master’s degree and show passion for the subject, this data seems troubling. According to data from the National Science Foundation, only 38% of women who majored in computer science are working in the field compared to 53% of men. Further, only 24% of women with an engineering degree still work in engineering, compared to 30% of men. In the tech industry, the quit rate is more than twice as high for women as it is for men. But, why? According to a Kapour research study, 1 in 10 women in tech reported experiencing unwanted sexual attention, and 3 in 10 women reported being paid less than their male counterparts. As female tech leaders speak out about the tech culture, it is clear that retention for women is hard because of company culture. In terms of employment, women of color are at an even bigger disadvantage for employment. According to data from the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), women make up 47% of all employed adults in the U.S., but as of 2015, they hold only 25% of computing roles. Within the 25%, Asian women make up 5% of that number, Black women make up 3%, and Hispanic women make up for 1%. Despite the fact that the growth of STEM jobs has grown faster than overall employment in the country, women are not being equally considered for jobs. The lack of women with computer science degrees trickles down to more starkly impact employment as well. As touched on earlier, workplace culture is a huge reason why women are turned off by careers in tech. A 2017 poll in the Pew Research Center report found that 50% of women experienced gender discrimination at work, while only 19% of men said the same. Half of the women being discriminated against is an absurd number! Moreover, the numbers were even higher for women working in computer jobs (74%), with a postgraduate degree (62%), or in male-dominated workplaces (78%). When asked whether their gender made it harder to succeed at work, 20% of women said yes and 36% said sexual harassment is a problem in their workplace. Considering these high numbers, it is clear why women would steer clear from jobs in computer science.
Despite the abundant interest, many women are discouraged by company culture; however, it is our job to change this! When women in STEM come together to enact change in workplace culture and empower each other, real progress will be made.
BY: Kenedy Quandt