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Bridging the Gender Gap: Data on Women in Technology

Only 25 percent of jobs related to computing and technology in the U.S. are held by women. New research provides recommendations for encouraging girls and retaining skilled women in IT careers.

According to the National Bureau of Labor, women in the U.S. hold only 25 percent of occupations related to computing and technology. Despite initiatives at some major companies and interest across the industry, the needle refuses to budge.

This is a problem, not for an abstract notion of fairness, but for the bottom line. A Credit Suisse Research Institute study from 2012 found that across 2,360 global enterprises, companies with women on the executive board outperformed those with all-male boards. Management teams with both men and women provided companies with superior returns. Such companies were also found to withstand recession more effectively.

This doesn't mean that you can just hire a few women and magically make a profit, of course. Many studies show benefits correlated with a diverse workforce, but none that I know have been able to quantify to what degree well-run companies hire more women versus to what degree having a gender-diverse staff improves the management of a company.

How to Inspire Girls in Technology

Increasing the number of women in tech fields starts with teaching girls what an IT career looks like. According to recent research commissioned by CompTIA, a nonprofit IT trade association, only 27 percent of middle school girls have considered a career in IT, and their interest drops over time -- only 18 percent of high school girls have considered an IT career.

The CompTIA research included over 400 students between the ages of 10 and 17: 37 girls participated in focus groups and 200 girls and 200 boys took an online survey.

Most girls in the study (69 percent) said they didn't know enough about what IT jobs were like to really consider them. According to the findings, "Girls frequently home in on the misconception that to work with technology means to be isolated and sedentary, operating alone in front of a screen for 40 hours each week."

On the other hand, 60 percent of the girls who were considering an IT career knew a relative or friend with an IT job. They presumably had a clearer idea of the breadth of options available, and what possible jobs actually entailed.

The CompTIA report stressed that parents and teachers can help raise girls' interest in IT just by presenting technology careers as an option for women to pursue. "It's never too early to weave IT into ongoing conversations about what young girls may want to be when they're older," the recommendations state.

The perception that tech is a boy's club can become a self-fulfilling prophecy if not countered. As one girl in a focus group said, "Growing up, I kinda always thought, well, that's a guy's field, not many girls are in it."

Keeping Women in the Industry

Once young women begin a career in the tech industry, however, many of them leave. According to a 2016 report from the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), twice as many women (41 percent) as men (17 percent) quit their tech career "at the mid-level ... (10-20) years in[to] their careers."

This report also cites multiple studies that indicate that these women are mostly leaving due to lack of opportunities for training, lack of access to creative roles, lack of management support, and lack of mobility to advance into leadership positions.

When companies don't ensure that men and women have equal chances for promotion, young women are moving to other industries where they perceive more opportunity. The NCWIT report quotes a study from the Center for Talent Innovation, saying that younger women "simply don't see a future in the field ... they're jumping ship while they can still find a career that offers them a better chance of success, leaving companies ... without young role models to attract the next class of female graduates."

The Anita Borg Institute agrees. Its "2016 Top Companies for Women Technologists" survey reported two statistically significant factors that made women less likely to leave an organization: career development opportunities and flexible working arrangements.

Making Progress

As the title of the Anita Borg report implies, it isn't all bad news. Among the 60 companies participating in that 2016 study, representation of women grew slightly at all levels (0.9 percent over 2015), although women still make up less than 20 percent of senior management and executive roles.

To read the list of 25 leading companies and recommendations for improving retention, read the 2016 Top Companies report on anitaborg.org.

Data-centric financial planning company SmartAsset released an article earlier this year on the best cities in the U.S. for women in tech. The list is topped by Washington, DC, followed by Kansas City, Detroit, and Baltimore. All have more than 30 percent of tech jobs filled by women and little or no pay gap between men and women.

CompTIA, meanwhile, has released an entire campaign around their survey to encourage more girls' interest in IT. More information and resources are available at Make Tech Her Story.

About the Author

Lindsay Stares is a production editor at TDWI. You can contact her at lstares@tdwi.org.


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