Despite advancements in other sectors, there actually fewer and fewer women in tech. Why?
In my last blog entry, I showcased some new data illustrating the decline of women in computer and engineering related positions. To try to better understand this issue, I posed two questions (see below) and responded to the first.
- Why are so few women pursuing formal education or training in computer science, engineering, and other technology related subjects?
- Why do many women not find the tech sector appealing for a potential career?
This week, I will address the second question and outline some factors that continue to dissuade some women from considering a career in the tech sector.
First, Some Quick Background
The rapid expansion of the tech sector over the past two decades has given rise to a host of well-established innovative technology companies and novel roles and opportunities. This, in some respect, has transformed the traditional talent composition of a technology company — it used to be that the majority of employees held technical degrees, skills, or experiences. Now, the evolving roles and responsibilities have enabled a significant proportion of non-technical talent to enter and even thrive in this new tech sector.
Despite these developments and the transformation that has taken place in the industry, however, there still remains a disproportionately lower percentage of women working and aspiring to pursue careers in the tech sector, regardless of whether they have technical or non-technical backgrounds.
Examining the Numbers
- The number of women in professional computing jobs dropped from 33% in 2000 to 25% in 2011, while men experienced an increase of 16% during the same period.
- Approximately one-third of Google and Facebook employees are women, while women make-up nearly half of the US workforce.
- The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) states that women working in the tech sector have an attrition rate more than double that of men.
3 Reasons Women Are Leaving or Avoiding the Tech Sector
There are numerous factors contributing to the statistics outlined above and that are detering women from even considering the tech sector as a viable industry to start or advance their careers. Let’s explore some of these.
1) Non-Technical Skill Set
Despite the growing number of non-technical positions opening up within tech companies, the primary needs and opportunities still remain inherently technical. Currently, women make up a very small percentage (16% – 18%) of graduates from computer science and engineering degree programs. This, of course, will change and improve as more initiatives and resources are directed towards making STEM learning more appealing for female students (see my earlier blog post for more details).
However, today, a substantial number of technical positions are not easily accessible for female employees who lack the background and training suitable for these roles. Therefore, we continue to see lower female representation in the tech sector.
2) Lack of Role Models and Mentors
Numerous studies of female professionals as well as panel discussions with Chief Talent Officers reveal that a lack of accessible female mentors in the tech sector continues to deter many women from entering the industry or sticking around and advancing as much as their male counterparts. To address this challenge, some technology companies have begun to facilitate networking events amongst female colleagues as well as implement formal female mentorship programs. Although these programs are relatively new in the sector, they appear to be generating positive feedback amongst female professionals. Time will tell whether these initiatives prove effective at improving the hiring and retention rates of female employees in the sector.
3) Family-Oriented Policies and Programs
When it comes to employing family oriented policies and programs, some large technology companies fall short compared to their counterparts in other sectors. As such, some of these companies experience higher levels of attrition amongst female employees, particularly those who plan to start or have just started a family. Some technology companies have begun to put new initiatives in place to address these challenges — this includes longer maternity and paternity leave programs, telecommuting options, a shortened workweek, on-site daycare facilities, and other related initiatives.
For some tech companies, the impact of these initiatives has soon become evident through increased hiring and retention rates, not to mention the cost savings from a reduction in unplanned hiring and higher productivity levels through organized knowledge transfers.
Have you or your employer put into practice specific policies or programs to make the tech sector more appealing for women? Can you think of any other strategies that may help address the retention challenges of female employees in the sector?