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. So, we asked women in tech how they got there, what challenges women face and how they succeeded in spite of them.
Here’s what they said.
Where Oh Where Are the Women?
"I believe there aren't more women in technology because from an early age they are not exposed to careers in computer science. At my high school there was a C++ class and I didn't even know what that meant. I was involved in the National Honors Society, band, and science classes. But I didn't know about the opportunities in the career field of engineering early on. No one ever talked about it.
"As a physics student I was invited on a field trip to Arizona State University for a recruiting event. I jumped at the chance of going on a field trip without knowing what it was about. It turned out it was for a group at ASU called WISE. Women in Science and Engineering. At the urging of my parents I signed up for the Saturday program. One Saturday a month I went to ASU and learned about a different engineering focus, computer engineering, electrical engineering, etc."
-Karen Garcia, software engineer at Symmetry Software
"I work in games and the number of women employed in our industry is exceptionally low. Why? Up until five years ago, young women who were weighing the right career path never considered working in games because they simply didn't see anything in the medium that catered to them. You're not going to be passionate about making video games if you don't like playing them, or worse, only see female characters as overly sexualized or subservient. However, with the advent of Facebook, smartphones and tablets, gaming has exploded, and with it, the number of games that are created for and appealing to young women. I'd predict that in 10 years there are many more women working in games than there are now."
-Jessica Rovello, president and co-founder of Arkadium
"I believe the reason why we don't have enough women in the tech industry is because we are the first generation. Unfortunately, we don't have too many women before our generation that can encourage and mentor us."
-Mariya Palanjian, sales and marketing director at ZadCars
What They’re Up Against
"I remember having to put a "male face" on my company. I would have someone sit at the head of the table during meetings, pretending to call the shots. He was basically an actor. It was sad, but that's how I made a lot of my business relationships go smoothly - by pretending that I wasn't the boss. I was the boss. It was my company, and I built it from nothing. But I had to put my pride aside for the people depending on me to shore up clients, so they could feed their families.
"For a long time, women with technology-related businesses have been labeled as "small-time ventures." I think that many women are intimidated, not by the industry or the work but by the politics involved. Now times have changed, and women are beginning to become a more acceptable part of the IT industry. It's a refreshing change, but more can always be done to get the next generations of women invested in tech careers."
-Karen Ross, CEO of Sharp Decisions
"I am a woman in technology and I am 26 years old. I find that being a young woman in tech is very challenging because it is very hard to find other women like me. Women in the industry are hard enough to find but someone my age is next to impossible, making it difficult to relate sometimes. If I am speaking to a group of people at tech event, I notice that the men tend to ask me the most difficult questions to test my knowledge and constantly challenge my answers. One of the other biggest challenges is that there are not a lot of women role models that I can model and who can mentor by example. It is so much easier for people to envision their career if they have a living, breathing example that they can relate to, and that doesn't really exist."
-Scarlett Sieber, business manager at Infomous
"I am a technology director at a small private high school. I have been doing network administration and technology curriculum development since 1998. As an older (late 40s) woman I have found that the biggest challenge is that, as I age, younger teachers sometimes believe that I have nothing to offer in the use of technology, nor do they believe that I understand how it works. In education I suspect that male teachers were often offered or asked to do these jobs as it is still a very sexist world in education. Conferences are dominated by men demonstrating their expertise in this field."
-Anne Marie Schar, director of technology at Mid-Peninsula High School in Menlo Park, California
"It is harder to get funding as a woman founder. Women in technology do seem to seek each other out and help network, but it still feels like a guys' network, and the overwhelming maleness of the industry seems to be one turn-off to women thinking about tech as a career. That's why we love Marissa Mayer. She is a brilliant nerd - and a stylish and pretty one!"
-Elaina Farnsworth, CEO of Mobile Comply
"It may be hard to imagine this now, but a decade ago, when I began my career as a controller, my team was all male. I joined a multinational firm and there too, I ran into an all-male IT department. Needless to say, they were less than supportive of ideas brought to the table by a female colleague.
"I am now the CEO and co-founder of BIME Analytics, the first pure cloud BI product for the age of big data. Our technology does exactly what I wanted when I was a controller: enable anyone with a browser to analyze and visualize data as it streams in and quickly answer questions without an IT department or a large budget."
-Rachel Delacour, CEO and co-founder of BIME Analytics
"Technology needs to be identifiable and exciting at a young age, removing the fear for young girls, but also young boys. The biggest issue for women is not whether they can adapt and gain skills, but if they can overcome the opinions of their peers and have the ability to truly sit across the table from them. I pursued a software engineering degree when it was not even vogue for anyone to be in tech and it was very difficult to ignore remarks from students, and even professors, who would encourage me to find more "social" degrees. Today, I am involved in my second startup, realSociable, and have had the chance to work for other, now successful, early-stage companies. I created a niche, building on my technology skills - and the "social" skills that my professors once encouraged me to pursue.
-Dalia Asterbadi, engineer, entrepreneur, CEO of realSociable.com
"Women SEOs have been called unicorns because we're so rare. We can be just as analytical as men and shouldn't be discounted for the strategic thinking and analysis it takes to do SEO work well. I recommend that women who want to use writing in their work look at blogging and SEO work as an option and then find a mentor."
-Kim Herrington, Web content specialist at Haden Interactive
"I think many women are put off pursuing a career in technology because of an outdated set of misconceptions. They think they need an engineering degree or technical background to succeed when in fact there’s a demand for skill sets as diverse as marketing and HR. I think that once women stop seeing tech as a male-dominated realm, they’ll find they too are welcome."
-Michal Tsur, president and co-founder of Kaltura
"Working in the tech industry has handed me several challenges and triumphs, but overall it has been the most rewarding career I have had to date. While my particular function within the industry does not involve writing code or manufacturing hardware and software, one of the biggest challenges in the beginning was learning how to speak the same language as my peers. I think that women are starting to grow in the ranks as the tech industry continues to provide more opportunities for women to grow in this space."
-Michael Robin, marketing director at Rocksauce Studios
"I moved my startup from Istanbul to Silicon Valley because I thought we'd have a better chance of succeeding in a place with more of an entrepreneurial ecosystem. What I found was toxic. I lived and worked in the Middle East for three years, and never once felt like people considered me inferior because of my gender. In Silicon Valley, I was dismissed every day. Thankfully, I had the flexibility to move to New York, where the tech scene (and everything) is much more diverse. In Silicon Valley, it's automatically assumed that, as a woman, you work in HR or marketing for some cool tech product that men developed. If I ever brought a date to a party, people would assume I was talking about his company when I described what my team and I are working on."
-Gillian Morris, founder and CEO of TripCommon
Why It Pays to Be In Tech
"I have worked in emerging technologies for over 20 years ... When I arrived at college I needed to pick a major. I liked many things but I really needed a job after graduation that made some decent money. So I asked some questions and decided on a computer degree based on the percentage of students hired with a livable salary.
"I have to be honest, I did not love the degree or related classes but I loved the promised results. I pushed through it and, as promised, the jobs were there. My career has been amazing! If you want financial freedom, career choices, travel, exciting work and ability to build a life you love - select a tech degree."
-JJ DiGeronimo, technology executive, author, entrepreneur & STEM advocate, PurposefulWoman.com
"As a young woman in tech, I feel powerful. Why? Because people are constantly questioning me, challenging me. I love being a woman in tech. I think women do not find this industry so glamorous. Little do they know, that when you know your stuff, you instantly become a respected member of the community. There aren't a lot of us, so, to me, it is even more glamorous and prestigious than being the marketing director of a restaurant or fashion house. To each HER own, however."
-Alessandra Ceresa, director of marketing at GreenRope.com
How to Succeed
"It's my belief, that even today, as a woman in the workforce; you cannot afford to cut corners. You absolutely have to be better qualified, better prepared than your male colleagues because there isn't a glass ceiling. From my own experience, it's a granite one, and I was more than prepared to take the jackhammer along with me."
-Jo Stewart-Rattray, director of ISACA and director of information security and IT assurance at BRM Holdich
"As a woman, starting out in the technology industry was extremely intimidating. I felt outnumbered and discouraged about having a voice in such a male-dominated environment. Not only is it unusual for a woman to be working in this field, but it is even more unusual for a woman to hold a leadership position. As CPO, I was determined to learn how to overcome the problems women face in this industry, not only for myself, but also for the success of my company.
"I learned that arriving to every meeting fully prepared, well researched, and knowledgeable about the topic allowed me to speak with a confidence that not only gained attention, but also respect - whether the meeting is with employees, industry players or the VCs. I've also learned to not be afraid to stand up for the ideas I believe in when the research behind them is credible. Being well prepared allows me to present great ideas with more confidence, making my solutions heard, and more importantly, implemented."
-Lindsey Madison, CPO and co-founder of HipLogiq
"I believe that women are strong, smart and highly motivated. I also believe that men are strong, smart and highly motivated. I have always aspired to be judged for what I do, not for who I am. I don't distinguish myself as a female. That said, I will always be myself, and not conform to traditional corporate standards. Diversity in the workplace is a wonderful thing and enables more creative and innovative perspective, and better products and solutions!"
-Mary Beth Westmoreland, vice president of product development at Blackbaud
"There are countless times I've spoken to unhappy women in hurting and increasingly competitive fields such as real estate, TV advertising and traditional newspaper. More times than not, the woman's talent is not only applicable to thriving tech fields, it's in high demand. I offer up to these women, "Why don't you apply to a software company?" and they look at me as if I've just asked them why they have yet to enter in a 100 mile road race.
"I spend the next 20 minutes explaining how their skills directly apply; it's simply a matter of learning the latest tools and lingo. Contrary to these ladies' belief, the learning gap to switch fields isn't wide, and there are resources everywhere. The great thing about tech is it's always evolving; it's those who don't jump in and remain curious self-teachers who will be left behind."
-Nicole Hayward, vice president of marketing at OnSIP
"Upon graduating from university with a degree in translation, I did not have plans to build a career in the field of IT. After searching for a job, I was unable to secure a position in my desired field but was offered a job from a local IT company as a manager's assistant. In this position, I was first introduced to the IT field, and within three months, had landed a promotion. One of the most important lessons I have learned so far is to always be open to new knowledge, offers and prospects. It is also essential not to be afraid to start your career in a new field and to move forward constantly, mindful of self-improvement and self-development."
-Tatyana Nemchenko, Web project manager at SmartBear Software
"Being a woman in the male-dominated ad tech industry can be challenging, especially when you're trying to simultaneously raise a family, but it's also incredibly rewarding. Few industries transform at such an amazing pace with new technology emerging almost daily. Yet, many women shy away from the challenge - it is daunting to manage a busy workload and travel schedule with a family. The first step in overcoming that obstacle is accepting that you can do both with a commitment to schedule management. To that end, I always tell women entering this field to learn how to work effectively, avoid focusing on what others are doing and find a good mentor."
-Denise Colella, CEO of Maxifier