Instagram has turned people into stars, Google has changed the world, and Uber has disrupted the transportation industry. These technology giants are now household names and are just a few of the hundreds of tech companies that are changing the way we live, work, play, and communicate.
For example, with social media sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, people now have a platform (that once didn't exist) to express themselves on a larger scale and use their voice to join cultural movements.
In fact, social media has played an important role in recent movements where we've seen women demanding equality in the workplace. The technology of social media has allowed people to stand in solidarity, sparked conversations, and empowered people to demand change. More recently, we've seen attempts of policy reform in respect to closing the gender pay gap, seeing more women in leadership positions, and calling for more flexibility and inclusivity in the workplace.
Ironically though, with an industry as groundbreaking as one like technology, there are so few women in the industry. You would think of all sectors, technology would be the most progressive with shifts in social paradigms—like gender equality in the workplace—but women only hold 20% of the jobs in the technology space.
In honor of National Women's Month, we explore why there are so few women in the industry and some of the initiatives that exist to increase the number of women shaping the technology space.
Decline of Women in Technology
What % of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) jobs in the United States are held by women? According to a 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Commerce, "Women filled 47 percent of all U.S. jobs in 2015 but held only 24 percent of STEM jobs.” Back in 1984, 37% of computer science graduates were women, but today, this figure has fallen to around 12%. With women such as Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Meyer, and Susan Wojcicki leading the way with high profile tech jobs, why is this figure so low and why is there a declining trend of women in tech?
Factors behind the decline
- Gender socialization starts at a young age. According to the Generation STEM report, researched and produced by the Girl Scout Research Institute, outdated stereotypes and the subtleties of society and culture unconsciously discourage girls from math and science. In fact, the report found that girls become interested in STEM at age 11, but lose interest by age 15, and have more interest in careers where they can help others and make the world a better place.
- A lack of opportunity. A 2018 survey of thousands of women with 10+ years in STEM careers found that 40% of respondents believe they have been passed over for a promotion in favor of someone less qualified of the opposite gender. A lack of female mentors in tech has been blamed by the Girl Scout Research Institute, with 95% of leadership positions in technology firms being held by men.
- Pay discrimination. The Institute For Women's Policy Research (IWPR) report that in 2017, female full-time, year-round workers made only 80.5 cents for every dollar earned by men - almost 20% gender pay gap between men and women. A report by Forbes found that within the tech industry, women were being offered between 4% - 45% less starting pay than their male counterparts for the same job. The gender pay gap can also be attributed to women undervaluing their market worth, asking for less pay 66% of the time, often asking for 6% less salary than their male counterparts. As an employee progresses within an organization, salary increases are largely dependent on current salary; the pay gap can be directly attributed to a job gap; a lack of opportunity at more senior levels, thus keeping women out of higher paid jobs and exacerbating the gender pay gap.
Ironically, despite the decline in the number of women holding jobs in technology, research shows that in school, girls actually surpass boys with their performance in STEM subjects.
In a recent study conducted by psychologists at the University of Glasgow and University of Missouri, they found that 15-year-old girls in 70% of countries outperformed boys in math, reading and science literacy, regardless of their levels of gender equality. Not only that, but according to research conducted by a group of computer science students, women proved to be better at coding than men.
Women are clearly capable of participating in technology, so it is time for society and organizations to help shift the paradigm.
Fighting the decline in the technology industry
Multiple companies and organizations are working to encourage women's interest in STEM and coding, as well as closing the pay gap and creating policies that are geared towards flexibility and inclusivity. Here are just a few of the initiatives you can check out to see how people are working to reverse the trend and bring more women into tech jobs.
- Girls Who Code - Girls Who Code has a simple mission: to close the gender gap in technology. Since being founded in 2012, the program has reached almost 90,000 girls across all 50 states. Companies like AT&T, GM, and Uber have sponsored clubs and college programs to recruit more women and help them advance their careers in the technology world.
- Salesforce - First taking a stance on pay equality in 2015, annual reviews and two pay adjustments since have seen Salesforce spend $6M to close pay gaps and ensure equal pay for equal work within their organization. As well as striving for pay equality, Salesforce is also a pioneer in equality; there is a policy within the firm of interviewing at least one woman or underrepresented minority candidate for each executive position, and, through supporting 9 diversity networks including the Women's Network (for gender equality), Outforce (organizer of many Pride marches), and AbilityForce (an ability inclusion forum), Salesforce is giving people a platform to actively curate change.
- Million Women Mentors - Sponsored by large companies such as BP, Boeing and Cisco, Million Women Mentors describes their mission as "a movement to spark the interest and confidence of girls and women to pursue and succeed in STEM careers and leadership opportunities through the power of mentoring." With more than 2 million pledges to mentor women and girls in STEM, the organization works to bring corporations with communities and government organizations to encourage women in technology.
- Family-Friendly Workplaces - Even though there is great disparity between women and men in technology, surprisingly, many tech companies are paving the way to make their workplaces more inclusive for employees who decide to have families. Google offers 22-24 weeks of paid leave for birth mothers, and starting in January 2018, Microsoft began offering assistance with fertility treatments and adoption expenses.
Hopefully in the near future, we can see more representation of women in technology as organizations build on these initiatives and people continue the conversation about bridging the gender gap, especially in the tech sector. Women should be part of not only shaping technology, but shaping the future as well.