Assessing the state of women in tech does present a kind of half-full – or more precisely quarter-full – glass perspective. There is definitely still a marked gap in terms of representation in the field and even pay. However, there are also signs of movement in the right direction. So while we do mind the gap, we should also look at what works to narrow it down.
1. Women are still underrepresented in the tech industry
As Statista reports, women are still in the minority at tech companies. Even in the largest ones, women’s positions overall come up short of half: 28% at Microsoft and 42% at Amazon.
That’s for jobs overall, when you narrow it down to tech positions, they’re down to less than 1/4. According to data from February 2020, Staista reports women held 23% of the tech jobs at Facebook, Google, and Apple, and only 20% at Microsoft.
They must fare better in other companies, as another Statista report estimates that women made about a third of all tech jobs in the United States in 2019. There were variations by state, and Washington DC emerged with the best ratio; there women held 40% of the tech jobs. (Read also: Why is There Still a Gender Gap in Tech?)
2.The gender wage gap persists
Women in tech still have not achieved pay parity, making 6-30 cents less on the dollar of mens' wages. According to data obtained from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on 2019 median weekly earnings of full-time salary workers in the United States, Narrow the Gap reports the gender gap for computer occupations overall was 84 cents earned for every man’s dollar in 2019.
The worst disparity was for web developers who earned 30% less than their male counterparts. The narrowest gap was for computer and information systems managers; women earned 94 cents for every man’s dollar for that job.
What’s interesting to note is that even as the gaps persist, they shift at different rates for different specialties. For example, the gap for software developers was 11 cents on the dollars in 2019. However that represents an increase of three cents over what it was in 2011.On the other hand, the gap of 10 cents for computer support specialists in 2019 represents a shift downward of 16 cents from eight years before.
3. Less than a quarter of women make it to tech C-level
According to the figures from Catalyst, Pyramid: Women in S&P 500 Companies (January 15, 2020), women held 26.5 percent of executive, senior-level and management positions at S&P 500 companies.The latest stats from McKinsey corroborate that men are promoted more frequently than women. I found that in 2020, only 38 percent of manager-level jobs were held by women.
However, in the field of tech, the percentages appear lower. In October of 2020 Boardroom Insiders reported that women made up 22% of CIOs. That was greeted as good news, as in 2018, women only held 20% of the CIO roles.
This is a problem that reflects not just possible bias in hiring and promotion but of retention of women in the field. It also becomes a kind of vicious cycle: not having women in hiring positions leads to fewer women being hired and to fewer role models and mentors to encourage women to advance in their careers to C-level positions. (Read also: 5 Ways to Support Women in Your Tech Company.)
Women surveyed by TrustRadius identified key barriers to being promoted in their tech careers::
66% of women felt there was no clear path forward for them at their current company.
41% identified the lack of a mentor as an obstacle to promotion.
39% cited limited budget as a major problem.
29% of women felt there was a lack of trust in their abilities.
4. A lack of representation reinforces bias against women in tech
“Underrepresentation underlies many of the inequalities,“ is the finding of the TrustRadius 2021 Women in Tech Report. It points out that absence of visibility for women “fosters unconscious gender bias in company culture.”
Companies that only hire candidates that appear to be a “‘cultural fit” will often replicate the imbalance between men and women. When companies are primarily headed by white men who are looking for their own mirror image in candidates, they perpetuate the lack of diversity. The only way to turn that around is to break out of the paradigm of who "fits in" and consider instead who adds value.
"If you want your company to continue to grow and evolve, your culture must grow and evolve along with it."
That’s what Alexandra Moore, director of talent acquisition at Credera, advocates for in promoting “culture add” in place of “culture fit.” She presented her approach to considering candidates at a conference for recruiting professionals.
"Culture adds seed a resilient culture by challenging groupthink that can come from just hiring for fit," Moore explained. "Culture adds have the will and skill to think differently, so proactively infusing them into the culture is vital for growth. If you want your company to continue to grow and evolve, your culture must grow and evolve along with it."
5. Nearly ¾ of women in tech contend with bro culture
The bias against women becomes reinforced by the “bro culture” that is perpetuated by hires that fit that culture. TrustRadius found that such a culture was encountered by 72% of women working in tech. Their male counterparts are sometimes oblivious to it, as only 41% of men recognized bro culture at these companies. The disparity is not altogether surprising given that those who are favored by the company culture may fail to notice how it can be harmful to others.
But there are serious ramifications for these women who are alienated by the culture and being on the receiving end of bias. and those who do are "more likely to leave their jobs,” LeanIn points out. which introduces the problem of retention for women in tech. (Also read: 5 Ways to Support Women in Your Tech Company.)
6. It’s not the glass ceiling but the broken ladder that’s the problem
We’re all supposed to climb the ladder of success, but that is difficult to do when the rung they need to step on is broken. The LeanIn organization described that problem and clarified that it’s not that women hit a glass ceiling that prevent their promotion but that the ladder they need to rise itself is faulty:
“This broken rung results in more women getting stuck at the entry level and fewer women becoming managers. As a result, there are significantly fewer women to advance to higher levels. To get to gender parity across the entire pipeline, companies must fix the broken rung."
“This broken rung results in more women getting stuck at the entry level and fewer women becoming managers.
For this reason, BuiltIn recommended that those hiring for tech positions should be thinking in terms of capability rather than prior experience:
Companies should hire objectively based on traits like curiosity, engagement, drive, passion and insight to truly figure out who is on the fast-track for management and executive-level positions. Hiring based on future potential, rather than prior experience, levels the playing field and allows women the opportunity to move past that “broken rung” and into the positions they deserve.
7. Women lost more ground due to the pandemic
The pandemic disrupted work in some way for just about everyone, but the impact on job positions were worse for women. That gender inequality was exacerbated at work in 2020 was noted by twice as many women as men, reports to TrustRadius.
“The COVID-19 crisis could set women back half a decade.”
“The COVID-19 crisis could set women back half a decade,” declared McKinsey.
Some estimate that a full two million women ended up leaving their jobs because of the difficulty of keeping it up in the time of coronavirus. That’s particularly true for mothers, and one in three has considered giving up her job, likely because it became impossible to do when there was no place for the children to go with many public schools and some daycare centers closed.
But not all women have left voluntarily. TrustRadius reports “that women in tech are twice as likely as men to have lost their jobs or been furloughed due to the pandemic.” That could well be bias at play again.
McKinsey raised that issue: “The pandemic may be amplifying biases women have faced for years: higher performance standards, harsher judgment for mistakes, and penalties for being mothers and for taking advantage of flexible work options.”
It then suggested that these preconceptions would mean that the appearance of children on camera when a woman joins a virtual work meeting can make her fellow employees think she is less dedicated to her work than they are. Even while suffering the judgement of too much exposure at home, women may lose out from less visibility at work.
When women can’t be seen working at the office, it increases the possibility that their managers and coworkers will be influenced by their biases when they draw their own conclusions about how much work she is putting in and the value of her contribution.
Whether a woman is forced out directly or by circumstances, it still translates into women derailing their progression on the career front. That has long term consequences.
As McKinsey reasons, “If these women feel forced to leave the workplace, we’ll end up with far fewer women in leadership—and far fewer women on track to be future leaders.” That, in turn, would lead to potential regression at companies with fewer women “mentor and sponsor other women.”
“57% of women in tech feel burned out at work this year, compared to 36% of men.”
TrustRadius found that women have been particularly stressed by the pandemic situation.“There’s more work to be done [at home], and women are doing more of it.” It found that 42% of women said they were taking on more work at home in contrast to just 11% of men. So it’s no surprise that women are feeling more strained: “57% of women in tech feel burned out at work this year, compared to 36% of men.”
Even the rise of remote work, which some women would have loved to have a perk in general is not universally hailed as a good thing: 42% of women consider it to have had a negative impact, and 17% found it made no difference.
8. Upsides to the rise of remote work in 2020
The flip side on remote work was embraced by nearly the same number of women in the TrustRadius report: 41% considered it to be a good thing. The percentages are even higher for women in Engineering and IT. In that specialty, 53% consider remote work to have been beneficial for women in tech.
To try to cast some light on the difference in perspective, TrustRadius shared a quote from one of the survey respondents:
“I think Covid 19 has put a new spotlight on the workload for working parents, but especially working mothers, because they are expected to take care of the kids and their jobs. I think the best thing to come out of the last year is the awareness this has created and the flexibility and understanding it has offered to allow people to be parents, mothers and then workers.”
—Anonymous, Individual Contributor in Customer Service
McKinsey also notes that possible upside: “It’s a positive cycle: the more employees can bring their whole selves to work, the more the workplace will work for them—and for everyone.” The fact that remote work has become normalized over the past year means that companies that had never offered it before can keep it on as a possibility in the future.
That’s something 93% of companies have acknowledged, McKinsey notes, and nearly 70% believe they will keep on remote work for at least some employees even in the future. You don’t have to be a woman to be happy about that, and 80% of employees said they would opt to work form home more frequently than they did prior to 2020.
9. Some women opted for the entrepreneur route in 2020.
Some women found a way to set up a lemonade business out of the lemon of the year 2020.
Not all who left their jobs did so because they were giving up. Some women took the opportunity to launch their own businesses.
In the UK nearly 20% of women said they were thinking about building their own “female-led start-ups” that would not just advance the cause of women but the economy for the country. One tenth of those were motivated to become entrepreneurs when they lost their job due to COVID-19. Another 34% were planning on building it up as a “‘side hustle’” to generate more income.
10. We know what it takes to build a better future for women in tech
Making sure that the numbers do change for women takes conscious follow-up. A reminder to check on outcomes was what Kellyn Gorman, a Senior Azure Data Engineer at Microsoft stressed in her quote for the TechRadius study. She explained that because “bias is often unintentional,” it’s necessary to look for its possible impact and ascertain that “promotions and salaries” for women are in line with those for men.
TrustRadius also shared what companies should be doing to bring those more equal outcomes about. The top suggestion, made by 78% of women, was to “promote more women into leadership positions.” (Read also: 12 Top Women in Tech RIght Now.)
Other recommendations were:
Providing mentorship opportunities (72%).
Offering flexible scheduling (64%).
Conducting unconscious bias training (57%).
Offering equal maternity and paternity leave (55%).
The importance of having women advance to the point where they can be making hiring decisions and serve as a role model and mentor for women entering the field is one that is backed by many studies. In an emailed communication, Sarah Hamilton, SVP of Marketing at Infrascale noted how essential such relationships are:
"The bonds formed through mentor/mentee relationships are also important for retaining women. I am beyond grateful for the mentors I’ve had along the way and how they encouraged me to charge forward with the confidence and resilience that was needed to sustain and advance a career in tech. One of my greatest joys is having the opportunity to likewise coach and encourage women and girls in their STEM-related pursuits."
Hamilton also sees that for all the work that remains to be done, women have still come a long way:
"When I started my career in tech almost 25 years ago, I typically found myself to be one of the only women in the room at meetings and conferences. I’m pleased to see the advancements by schools and universities in their encouragement of girls and young women to pursue interests in STEM. The commitment we’re seeing now by many corporations to develop their careers and recognize their contributions is key to retaining them in the IT industry."
When assessing women’s current status in tech, we have to note where there has been progress, as well as what will lead to more progress in the future. It is important to open more possibilities for women to not only enter the field of tech but to stay on, advance and lead.