International Women's Day: We Asked Why There Aren't More Women In Tech
We know that the number of women in tech is way too small. What we don't know is why.
Only 26% of computer-related jobs are held by women in tech, despite the fact that women now hold more than half of all the jobs in the U.S.
Unfortunately, that isn’t a question that statistics do such a great job of answering. After all, unraveling the work that women choose — and why — is a complicated issue that’s wrapped up in everything from education to on-the-job support and the ability to achieve suitable work-like balance. (Read Why There Aren't More Women Working in Open Source Software.)
What’s more troubling is that that number’s actually decreased since 1991, when women held about 37% of all tech jobs. (Read Top Career Tips for Women Working in Technology.)
So, we asked women in tech how they got there, what challenges women face and how they succeeded in spite of them. (Read 5 Women Who Changed the History of Technology.)
Here’s what they said.
Unavailable tech career pathways to help late life transitions
When talking about women in tech, we tend to focus on younger women who are either still in school or just starting off in their careers. This dialogue ignores a large group of women — those in established careers.
An important piece of the puzzle is having pathways to help women later in life transition into tech careers.
As a woman in a non-STEM position, it can be hard to pull off a career pivot. Not just hard but expensive. The personal cost of executing such a pivot is a turnoff for anyone, but especially for women who may not have much economic flexibility.
For women who have families to support, that alone is a deterrent to pursuing a whole new career in tech. The prospect of economic stability at some point in the future does little to stop the fear and uncertainty
caused by short-term or medium-term instability.
This is especially true for those who are single mothers, potentially without much of a support system. Taking the leap to retrain for a career path in tech without adequate support, either from the public or private sector, is too much of a risk for many to take.
Sure there are organizations like Girls Who Code that are trying to bridge the gap, but they tend to focus entirely on young women without such heavy financial obligations. They almost exclusively use young women in their marketing material which drives away 30+ year-old women.
Without feasible solutions for having older women pursue tech careers, it will be next to impossible to close the gap for at least another generation.
Challenging tech language
I started my adventure with IT in 2011 when I was a university student, majoring in translations. I was looking for some extra work and came across a testing job offer.
I had no clue what testing was but because experience wasn't required, the company provided my training. As I started, I soon realized this was something I wanted to explore further.
Was I confident I would succeed? Absolutely not. It was still very uncommon for a woman to work in tech. I was intimidated by the male environment and expected men would not treat me seriously. The tech language that I had to learn was another serious challenge. I decided I would study a lot to overcome my fears. That meant reading one tech book after another for hours after regular work. I learned how to communicate with work colleagues using specific tech language.
Despite all my fears, this wasn't so difficult — all my workmates turned out supportive. The advice I could give to girls starting in tech would be that your fears are your biggest obstacle. You simply just need to try.
With hard work and persistence, you can get anywhere you want. I recommend joining the
online tech communities for women where you can find proper support, encouragement and information.
The support mechanisms are often missing
There are not more women in tech because of modeling, societal pressures, and a lack of support. As a female in tech it is difficult to observe other women advance in technical careers, because there are so few of them. (Also read: 5 Ways to Support Women in Your Tech Company.)
This often becomes a cycle. Women often feel isolated, unheard, and they frequently lack mentorship that is required to navigate successfully in this career path. Further, natural aspects of life such as marriage, pregnancy, and child rearing are often more difficult to navigate for women.
Further, women generally do more domestic work at home even if they work outside of them home (e.g. they work in the technology field), but the support mechanisms are often not there (e.g. flexible schedules) to help them successfully remain in this career.
Thus, although they are more than qualified the career becomes unsustainable. I have studied, observed, and experienced this exact phenomenon.
This gender bias is deeply ingrained in our minds
I discovered coding in high school and I decided to pursue it as a career because I truly loved it. My family and friends have always been supportive of it. Truthfully, no one has ever outright told me that I shouldn’t give it a try, but some people did look at me skeptically when I told them that I was going to be a web developer.
Many people believe that women aren’t as good as men when it comes to technical abilities. This gender bias is one of the reasons why many young girls are intimidated to pursue technology as a career. It’s so deeply ingrained in everyone’s minds, that girls grow up believing it too.
When I started my first job as a developer even I doubted myself. I honestly believed that men are better developers than women and that being a female in this field was a disadvantage. My own preconceived notions were the first challenge I had to face.
However, those ideas weren't only in my head. We live in a tech world dominated by men and it’s been this way for a long time now. It took some time to get my voice heard, to get colleagues to trust me and to listen to my ideas. We all get along really really well now and we make a great team.
I would encourage all girls to pursue whatever it is they want to do and don’t get discouraged, even if it is a male-dominated industry.
We’re not doing enough to promote technical jobs in education
We recently held a roundtable discussion about women in tech. One of our responses, Arianne Donoghue perfectly hit the nail on the head by saying: “to create solutions that work for every part of society, every part of society has to be represented in the industry”.
This is why women are essential in tech — but it’s a problem that the industry is struggling with as a whole.
When Adzooma launched, the development team was 100% male. Now, it’s closer to the 90% mark. There are some tech job openings that only men apply to, which is horrendous — and shows that there’s something going wrong before applying for jobs.
In my opinion, we’re not doing enough to promote technical jobs in education. There is an increased push towards women in STEM, but there’s a heavy focus towards science rather than technology, particularly digital technology.
If we want to do more, we need to do better to educate people on the possible job opportunities out there. If businesses are struggling to fill roles, they need to form partnerships with schools or colleges, offer apprenticeships and help train a new generation to be better and more diverse.
It’s only by offering more opportunities that we can change the future.
Sole female representation on a team
For the past 18 years, I have worked in the IT field doing web development. I started as a junior web developer for a rug company in Dallas, Texas. I am self-taught and was able to learn more on the job.
I have always been interested in computers and technology since high school. At 16 years old, I taught myself how to code a website for a school project.
Currently, I am in three MeetUp groups that are centered around female developers in the Dallas, Texas area. I do know there are quite a lot of females in technology.
However, many times when I accept a new position, I am the only female on the team. That can be a challenge because some men will not take me seriously! I had one guy constantly scrutinize my code whenever I did a pull request. He never spent that much time on my male colleagues' requests
I do enjoy working in technology as a female web developer and look forward to the coming trends. I like that my field is always changing and new tech is always being developed for me to learn.
Representation and fundraising
I started my career as an architect, but I got into tech because I love the fast paced creative process. With architecture it takes 2-10 years to get something built!
With software, I can design, develop and get it to our customers in weeks. Currently I'm the CEO of the education startup Everydae, the digital tutor for high schoolers, but the transition from architecture to tech wasn't easy. For a long time I worked with a male business partner. People would automatically assume I was his assistant and he constantly had to name-drop my credentials so that I would be taken seriously.
But I feel the biggest issue in this field is representation and fundraising. There's a tech conference in LA this week and out of 72 speakers, only 16 are female. I mean, really? You couldn't find more women? Meanwhile, it's still confounds me that only 2% of VC funding goes to female founders. For me, this all comes back to higher education. In the US, only 18% of computer science graduates are women.
In Iran (which some might assume is male-dominated) 70% of science and engineering graduates are women and they are more equally represented in the workforce.
Simple awareness of embedded internalized biases, can go a long way towards dismantling them
My journey in technology was, similar to that of many women, non-linear. I set out to study computer science in college, only to find myself veering away from the field once in school — finding little camaraderie in male dominated classes, and fearing that I was no good, as the complex problem solving of CS challenged me in ways my other classes did not.
Eventually, however, I found myself working for a non-profit organization that helps people from non-traditional backgrounds get free tech education and launch upwardly mobile careers in technology. It was through this experience of working with hundreds of people, many of whom were women, launching careers in tech, that I began to recognize my own story in so many others that I worked with.
This represented a turning point, which reignited a passion for coding and technology I had long ago abandoned.
Women are often socialized to aim for perfection, something that exists at odds with the constant frustrations and challenges of writing code — and away from solving hard problems, which the tech industry is rife with.
However, even simple awareness of these embedded internalized biases, can go a long way towards dismantling them.
Small actions compound into BIG results over time
Women get into tech by taking action and making forward movement to build their portfolio and gain experience even when they doubt themselves and even in the face of fear. Small actions compound into BIG results over time. I know because I did it myself and I’ve trained other women in tech to do it too….
Eight years ago, I started over from scratch. I had zero marketable tech skills (I had taken a seven-year break from tech after college), zero network, and zero job prospects. But I took small actions like enrolling in a community college course to relearn my tech skills, hiring a career coach, taking online courses, attending hackathons, attending networking events, etc.
Within two years, I was top of my field, had won the company-wide award at top development agency FOUR times, had had my work featured in Apple iOS keynotes, and was one of only 100 innovators worldwide invited to attend the UK G8 Innovation Summit.