Years ago, the public woke up to the fact that there were not enough women in tech jobs. The industry – supposedly a bastion of progress – was as male-dominated as other sectors. Many organizations started “women in tech jobs” initiatives to help correct this disparity, and many assumed they were working. But they were not.
A recent report in MarketWatch found that the number of women in tech positions is trending downwards. At the current rate, the percentage of women in tech will fall from 24% today to 22% in 2025. With stats like these, it is clear the industry’s efforts to hire more women are failing. So what went wrong?
How are tech firms trying to hire more women?
Software giant SAP has made a conscious effort to promote women at SAP through its website and social outreach. Company leaders such as Danielle Glossi and Janet Peterson set powerful examples of what women in senior tech positions can do, and the idea is that these individuals will inspire more female candidates to apply for SAP jobs.
As the recruiters Eursap have noted, the skills needed for an SAP job are notoriously niche, and finding work in the field can be tough. It seems this might be especially true for women, since SAP is only 32.5% female, according to an independent audit this year, and only a quarter of its board members are women.
Intel has tried a similar approach. As shown in this article by Intel’s Anna Cheng, Intel proudly proclaims itself as open to women and garners attention for its most senior female employees. But, once again, its diversity figures tell a different story. The company is still 77% male and 23% female. This “lead by example” approach could still be effective in theory, but promoting a minority of female executives is clearly not enough.
Energy firm NPower founded the Million Women Mentors program in an attempt to connect young women to successful female role models. The plan is to find 1 million volunteer mentors, each to advise a potential future tech employee. This is commendable, but the company is still only on track to have an at most 22% female board by 2018, so this approach is not helping much either.
Why aren’t these approaches working?
This question is difficult to answer definitively. It may simply be a case of male executives hiring other men based on (potentially unrecognized) internal bias. Often, employers will claim to be hiring whoever is more qualified for the job, when, on an unconscious level, being male is a necessary qualification. Scientific American found empirical evidence of this kind of internalized gender bias among employers, which is no less likely to be found in the tech industry than in any other.
There could be other reasons, too. The rise of “brogrammer” culture in startups is likely off-putting for many women. The How to Hire More Women in Tech website points towards gendered wording in job ads as another potential factor, with terms such as “dominant” and “strong” betraying a company’s supposed gender neutrality.
If these initiatives don’t work, what will?
Companies addressing the wording of their ads may well help the situation, but the real difference could be made in the classroom. Broader initiatives from nonprofit organizations, such as Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, and Women in STEM, focus their efforts on encouraging the younger generation of women to pursue a technology-based career path.
The study quoted in MarketWatch was carried out in part by Girls Who Code and, aside from spotting the downward trend of women in tech jobs, it found that many women believe having a female IT teacher would have attracted them to pursue a technology or computing job. Hiring more female IT teachers, accompanied by an increased emphasis on coding in the curriculum, may be exactly what the tech industry needs to correct its gender imbalance.
It is also possible that these broader approaches are working, but we are yet to see their full effects. Indeed, we are already seeing more young women pursue coding to a further academic level. At Stanford University last year, computing was the most popular major for female undergraduates. This suggests that, in spite of the downward trend, there may be hope for gender equality in the tech industry after all.
For more on fostering a more gender-inclusive tech industry, see Mentoring Generation Z Girls In Technology.