Why Is There Still a Gender Gap in Tech?
We gathered data from tech industry employees about their experiences with gender bias and why they think it will take 32 years to close the gender gap in the tech industry.
We’ve known about the gender gap in the technology industry for years. The problem has become a popular talking point in mainstream media, and the movement to encourage more women to enter science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields has led to the creation of many nonprofit organizations that focus on supporting women in STEM. You’re probably familiar with these nonprofit organization, such as:
- Women in Technology, Founded by Suzanne Porter-Kuchay in 1994
- Girls Who Code, Founded by Reshma Saujani in 2012
- WOMEN IN TECH, Founded by Ayumi Aoki in 2018
If you work in the tech industry, you’ve likely heard of the local chapters of these organizations or independent organizations in your area dedicated to supporting women in technology. Beyond supporting women already in the tech industry, these organizations also help to run programs, camps and classes in STEM fields to encourage girls to seek out these industries later in life and, hopefully, help them discover their passion for tech.
We know these groups. Many of us have attended events, conferences or talks put on by these organizations, or seen their posts across our social media.
However, despite the prevalence of these organizations and the widespread knowledge of the disproportionate gender ratio of men to women in the tech industry, the gender gap still persists.
Despite women making up 47% of all employed adults in the United States, according to recent surveys, women only hold 24% of the technology positions. Representation is even worse at top companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft, where only 22% of tech positions are held by women.
These numbers become even more significant when you compare them to past statistics. According to the National Institute for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), in 2009, women made up 22% of the technology positions in the United States; in the past 12 years, we have only managed to move the needle 2%.
Twelve years of work for 2% in growth. If we continued on this growth trajectory, it would take us 156 years to reach an equal ratio of men and women in technology. It is due to these numbers that led us to ask a very simple question: Why does the gender gap in tech still exist?
So, we created a survey to gather data from tech industry employees about their experiences with gender bias and why they think the gender gap is still prevalent. Unlike a lot of surveys done in the past, we surveyed all genders on their experiences with gender bias in the tech industry.
We also interviewed leading women in tech, Svenja de Vos, Chief Technology Officer at Leaseweb Global, Samantha Humphries, Head of Security Strategy, EMEA at Exabeam, Sofia Kauffman, Chief People Officer at Zerto, and Shanthi Boppana, Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder at Sotero, to hear their experiences and ideas on how we can solve the gender gap.
Our survey of 1,233 individuals in the tech industry revealed that gender bias is still highly prevalent, and that women and men have different views on why the gender gap is still present.
What is the representation of women in the tech industry?
While recent surveys have reported that women hold about 25% of technology positions in the United States, our respondents reported an average of 35% of their company is female. However, as we expected, this number decreases as you move up the career ladder. Only 27.5% of respondents’ management teams are female, and only 24% of C-Suite or executives at respondents’ companies are female.
These results are on par with other surveys results; in TrustRadius’ 2020 Women in Tech Report 60% of women said their company’s leadership and executive team was made up of 0 to 25% women. Unfortunately, the lack of women in leadership and executive roles is not just localized to the tech industry. McKinsey & Company’s 2020 Women in the Workplace Report shows that men in C-Suite positions outnumber women 26 to 7.
Research from the Center for Talent Innovation, shows that women in science, engineering and technology fields are 45% more likely to leave the industry within a year than their male counterparts. As such, the lack of women in upper management in the tech industry is likely due to attrition and not entirely due to hiring practices.
However, when asked if their companies prioritized hiring women, 35% of respondents said it was heavily prioritized at their company, while 31% said it was prioritized, but not significantly. Unfortunately, 25% of respondents answered that hiring women is not a priority for their company.
Does the gender pay gap still exist?
When asked if they believed there was a gender pay gap where they work, 37% of women reported women are paid less than men, whereas only 20% of men reported the same.
22% of both men and women reported knowing there was a gender pay gap from having seen the salaries reported at their company, whereas 28% of women and 29% of men know from having talked to their coworkers about what they make.
How many women and men have experienced gender bias in their workplace?
Of our 1,233 respondents, 41% of respondents were women, 56% were male and 3% were non-binary. When asked if they had experienced gender bias that was not in their favor, 43% of women respondents said that they had, whereas only 23% of men had.
Furthermore, 44% of women reported that they have seen other women in their workplace experience gender discrimination. However, 61% of men said they have never seen women in their workplace experience gender discrimination.
This significant difference between these responses leads us to question whether men are less able to notice gender discrimination happening to their women coworkers due to fewer men having experienced gender discrimination personally.
When asked if they felt like women at their work were expected to work harder than men at the same level, 32% of women answered that they believe women are expected to work harder than men, but only 17% of men answered the same way.
Why do you think there are fewer women than men in tech?
When asked about why they believe there are fewer women than men in the tech industry, 23% of respondents believe that schools and universities don’t do a good enough job promoting tech career paths to women.
Furthermore, 22% of respondents believe that the gender gap is caused by women knowing that tech is male dominated, causing them to avoid the industry; 22% of respondents believe that the tech work culture has too much of a “bro-culture” that does not attract women to work in the field.
The notion of a “bro-culture” or toxic environment repelling women from tech or encouraging them to quit the industry proved to be a key factor for our respondents:
“The tech work culture has too much of a "bro-culture" and REPELS women from the field. They start and try, but after continuous harassment, some give up.”
“Women are treated disrespectfully by peers compared with men … credentials are questioned, we’re made to feel stupid or irrelevant. Men big each other up, they don't do the same for women. It's blindingly obvious that we are not welcome, so we leave and find other more sympathetic fields to work in.”
“It's very difficult for women to be taken seriously, but also just to be treated as a colleague and a human being. Discrimination, whether positive or negative, is abundant in the field (and in many others too). That's hardly a motivating or even friendly environment to step into.”
“Unlevelled playing field - people expect technical people to be male. Default is that it's assumed you know what you're talking about if you're male, but have to prove it if you're female. So attrition due to fewer opportunities.”
20% of respondents also believe that women avoid the tech industry due to it being harder for women to get promotions or senior level positions in the industry; 13% believe that the recruitment process in tech favours men over women.
Some respondents also highlighted cultural biases playing a role in the lack of women in tech:
“Generally this is the result of gender cultural bias. The attitudes to learning steer girls at an early age to other options. To address the issue you need to change attitudes within family units and educational initiatives, which begin at an early age.”
“Normally, women are more predisposed towards people-oriented jobs, less assertive than their male counterparts, and have opportunities to make money without becoming proficient in highly technical roles. The incentive for men is also higher due to differences in sexual attraction norms (i.e., high-earning, powerful men are seen as attractive partners by women but the same sentiment is not returned when the sexes are reversed). Since technical roles tend to be more high-paying, they are instantly seen as masculine, and therefore, attractive for men to be in but consequently unattractive for women to be in.”
How do we close the gender gap in tech?
One of the many initiatives by women in technology organizations is establishing training programs and job opportunities specifically for women. When asked if their company currently offers specific training programs and opportunities just for women, 32% of respondents said that their company does. Close to half of respondents (58% of women and 47% of men) believe that their company should offer specific training programs and opportunities just for women.
Furthermore, 67% of women and 63% of men believe that all genders are responsible for solving the gender gap. However, 18% of male respondents believe it is not men’s responsibility to solve the gender gap problem compared to the 14% of women who think it is not.
When asked what we need to do to close the gender gap, the responses from women were mostly positive and encouraging:
“I think we're on the right track now, having girl-oriented coding camps and hackathons. What needs to happen is the men need to start shutting [gender discrimination] down too, when they see it. Standing by passively implies acceptance.”
“I think STEM programs in school is a major milestone that exposes kids, regardless of gender, to the tech world. Having worked in several environments of male dominated industries, the culture of equality and acceptance makes a world of difference. The older the male workforce it seems the more division and less accepting of a woman being smart and capable. As a society we are on the right path with STEM programs and should invest more towards the younger children like toys for instance. Compare boy and girl toy searches and you will see where we can use improvement.”
“The hype that all people who are into tech are geniuses and have a great passion is false. Tech-industry is a skill based industry and like any skill, it can be learned. Tech skills especially, has no gender specificity on its own. At the end of the day it is a job, which can pay well. There is opportunity for women to bring their unique perspectives to the table and contribute to the fast-evolving world through technology, and make impact through tech on different parts of the world, regardless of where you are currently living. It is exciting and rewarding. It gives you the opportunity to build new things and be creative as well.“
However, while going through the responses, we noticed a number of comments stating that nothing should be done to solve the gender gap. Of all the comments from men, 6% of them said that nothing should be done and suggested there is no need to have an equal distribution of men and women in the tech industry. These comments stated that trying to “force” women into technology was counterproductive and sexist, and that the gender gap exists simply because women don’t find the tech field as interesting as men do. We've chosen not to endorse these comments by including them here.
While we know these comments do not accurately represent the majority of men, they do show that discriminative thought patterns still exist. We would like to note that when we asked women respondents why they went into the tech industry, 60% of them said it was mainly due to their passion for tech and their love of the work.
Encouragingly, there were far more positive than negative comments from men on how we can close the gender gap:
“Creating more awareness and teaching women about the enormous difference they can make while working in tech. The possibilities are endless!”
“Continue to expose girls to tech and how it relates to their inherent interests. Judge them as equals and on the merits of their work and we will see more women in each successive generation of workers - much like what happened in medicine.”
“Remove the stigma that programming and other engineering practices are only for people who can excel and thrive on it, as there is some kind of level of commitment to be made. It skyrockets the competition and makes it so it is more hostile to everyone, especially women, as it is often that males are more eager to compete rather than women.”
“There is this perception that software development is a 'male thing' And a typical image of a 'hacker' - which is actually very far from the reality of paid dev job - is not exactly female-friendly There's an element of self-fulfilling prophecy: if software development is perceived as male thing, women are less likely to get involved into it, that strengthens this perception, which makes even fewer women choose development careers, and the whole thing becomes self-reinforcing. Educating people on the true nature of dev jobs and highlighting those aspects which are traditionally seen as more feminine - attention to detail, care, harmonizing teamwork - may help change the balance”
Respondents agree that a key step to solving the gender gap problem is to expose young girls to technology and encourage their interest from a young age. Initiatives like these will obviously not have an immediate effect on the gender gap, but they should help to close the gender gap over generations. This coincides with our respondents belief it will take 32 years before men and women are on equal footing in the tech industry.
What can we do about gender discrimination and gender bias in the tech industry until then?
While closing the gender gap may take years for us to accomplish, according to our respondents, 43% of women in the tech industry are still experiencing gender discrimination in their workplaces today. This is a problem we can address right away.
Eliminating gender discrimination is a cultural shift that will require the assistance of everyone in the tech industry.
There are tasks we can accomplish now, such as:
- Publishing salaries within companies to eliminate any suspicion of a gender pay gap
- Neutralizing gendered language within resumes and job postings
- Training interviewers and recruiters on how to overcome implicit gender biases
- Not tolerating gender discrimination we are witness too within our companies
- Eliminating the “bro-culture” and toxic workplace cultures
- Promoting mentorships for women in tech
Our experts particularly highlight the importance of mentors and role models in the tech industry as a way to help women find their confidence and their footing in the currently male-dominated industry.
Other organizations, such as Women in Tech UK, recommend shifts in tech company benefits, such as more flexible work hours, the ability to work from home, and increased medical benefits and health insurance to attract more women into the sector.
Moreover, one of the simplest steps we can take to help eliminate gender discrimination in tech is to support and encourage women in our workplaces. The more we support and build each other up, the harder it will be for others to knock them down.
The more work we do now, the easier it will be to closer the gender gap in the generations to come. When we look back on this study in 12 years, we want to see that we've moved the needle way more than just 2%.
For more resources, read 5 Ways to Support Women in Your Tech Company.