The past few years have been significant ones for a number of reasons. A fresh decade brought with it advancements in science, tech, entertainment, and politics. And women have a significant role to play in all of that.
Take politics, for example. With the rise of female candidates and advocacy, it’s clear that women are intent on making their voices heard. In fact, women have outvoted men in every midterm election since 1998. And those stats hold for presidential elections since 1984.
But it hasn’t been that long since women got the right to vote in the United States.
Two years ago marked the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, which made it unconstitutional to restrict the right to vote on the basis of sex. First introduced in 1878, the amendment required decades of aggressive campaigning, countless protests, and the unlawful imprisonment of suffragists to gather enough votes.
A century later, our society has made huge strides toward equality. But there’s still a gender gap. Women—especially minorities and LGBTQ women—continue to face massive obstacles in advancement and quality of life as they are outnumbered, underpaid, and overlooked in the workplace. One of the sectors where the gender disparity is easiest to spot: The tech industry.
This report will explain the historical background of women in the workplace before looking at women’s gains in academia, and the role bias plays in the tech industry. Finally, we’ll outline action items that can be implemented by both individuals and organizations—things we can all do—to make the future more inclusive.
- History of Women in the Workplace
- Education for Women
- Gender Makeup in Tech Today
- Perceptions of Women in the Workplace
- Women of Color in Tech
- Queer Women in Tech
- Revealing the Wage Gap
- How is This Affecting the Tech Industry?
- Companies Working to Mind the Gender Gap
- How You Can Close the Gender Gap
- Looking Toward the Future
Related: 30 Ways to Be an Ally for Women in Tech
Women in the Workforce
In the rearview mirror of history, it’s easy to pinpoint exactly what brought an unprecedented number of women into the workforce for the first time: World War II.
As the U.S. entered the conflict, the need for industrial production on the homefront skyrocketed. But with men on the front lines, the responsibilities for filling the gaps in the domestic labor force fell to the women—who answered the calling in true Rosie-the-Riveter fashion. While their contributions were essential to the war effort, these pioneering women faced unmeasurable bias without the benefit of legal protections.
Take the first computer, for example. Six women programmed the first electronic computer—the Electrical Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC)—during WWII but weren’t given credit for their work. They were even identified in photos as “refrigerator ladies,” models used to make products appear more alluring. Their groundbreaking work went unrecognized and unlauded for years.
What’s more, it has taken years for women to earn equalizing legal rights to protect them in the workplace, with most of the milestones happening in the last 50 years. Here’s a sampling:
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of 1968 determined that it was unlawful to continue separating job listings and help wanted ads by sex.
According to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, employers cannot legally fire or pass on (for jobs or promotions) otherwise qualified female applications because they are or might become pregnant. Previous to enacting this law, women were often let go to spare employers the costs of healthcare and maternity leave.
Sexual harassment is a huge part of the national conversation today. It wasn’t always this way, however. In 1991, Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of workplace harassment, a pre-#MeToo spotlight on sexual harassment that was, in many ways, the first of its kind.
In the 1986 Supreme Court case, Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, it was determined that the making of repeated sexual references or advances in the workplace amount to a hostile work environment.
In 2009, President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, legislation that allows employees to file a complaint of pay discrimination within six months of receiving their last paycheck. The act also confirmed that discrimination occurs every time a woman is paid less for equal work.
Education for Women
Now for some good news: Women are doing better than ever, where education is concerned. According to a recent report, women are more likely than men to be enrolled in college, at a rate of nearly 67%. And women are more likely to earn those diplomas, with college completion rates now reaching 65%!
These on-the-rise figures don’t reach many tech fields, however.
Some numbers seem to be spiraling backward. In the mid-1980s, 37% of computer science majors were women. Now? It’s dipped to 18%.
Today, women make up only 19.9% of engineering graduates, and an even smaller number—17% of the engineering workforce is made up of women.
In addition, a Google survey reported that many girls don’t believe computer science is important. The perpetuated influence of this retrograde thinking has a significant (and alarming) impact on future generations of young women in tech.
Related: This DreamHost Customer Is Helping a Generation of Young Women Own Their Power
Gender Makeup in Tech Today
Step inside any office, and it’s easy to see that most aren’t staffed to be gender-equal.
Only 24% of computing jobs are held by women. Research shows that, in the last 21 years, the number of female software engineers has increased by only 2%.
The turnover rate is more than twice as high for women as for men in tech industry jobs—with one-in-three saying they experience gender bias at work. 38% of women in tech plan to leave their employers within the next two years. Regarding the biggest challenges they face in tech, women named lack of opportunities for advancement (52%), lack of female role models (8%), and lack of mentorship (40%) as the top items. Thirty-two percent cited the pay gap. 50% of women leave their tech jobs by age 35, a 45% higher rate than males.
From 1980 to 2010, 88% of all information technology patents were by male-only invention teams, while 2% were by female-only invention teams. So essentially, the technology being created for a diverse population has historically been formed by a homogeneous group. Plus, patent-holders are more likely to receive VC funding, perpetuating future male-dominated businesses.
19.78% of engineers at Silicon Valley startups are women. Only one in four startups have a female founder. Women are being passed over at the top too. Among Fortune 500 companies, 22% of tech leadership positions are held by women. Also, only 2% of female-owned startups receive venture capital funding.
And their growth is stunted; more than 20% of women over the age of 35 are still in junior positions. In fact, women are far more likely to be in junior positions than men—regardless of age. Women were also twice as likely as men to leave their job or be furloughed during the pandemic.
Men make up significantly more than half of the job applicant pool in tech, while women are still underrepresented 16% of the time.
Perceptions of Women in the Workplace
It’s not just the lower numbers of women in tech that poses a problem. Another issue? How they’re perceived.
For example, merely knowing the gender of a programmer considerably affects perceptions of work quality and success. This kind of bias is pervasive.
In a study of GitHub users, code written by women was accepted 78.6% of the time—4% more than code written by men. This trend, however, only worked when the programmer’s gender was kept secret. So women were better coders when their gender was left unknown.
And that’s barely a start.
While everyone is subject to failings and mistakes in the workplace, when women in high places fail in the public eye, it’s perceived as a harder fall—viewed as a reason women shouldn’t lead—with more intense media scrutiny and criticism.
Women of Color in Tech
For marginalized groups, prejudice can amplify underrepresentation. Perhaps more than gender bias, racial discrimination is a critical concern for women in tech.
In 2013, Black, Hispanic, and Native American women made up 18% of the college-aged population, yet they only earned 6% of computing degrees and 3% of engineering degrees.
The underrepresentation of women in tech is a huge liability for the industry. Diverse companies are more likely to report growth, perform better, and have an increased competitive edge.
Companies are often tight-lipped about the breakdown of intersectional ethnicities represented in their female employees. However, Slack stepped up in 2016, and other companies have followed suit.
Pinterest currently leads other tech firms for its percentage of underrepresented minority groups at management and executive levels. That winning number is only 8%.
Still, as of 2020, women of color represent only 12% of tech positions in the U.S.
Related: What it’s Like to Be a Black Woman in Tech—Q&A with Kaya Thomas
Queer Women in Tech
LGBTQ women in technology are also craving representation. Over 7% of Americans identify as LGBTQ, and in thriving tech-centric cities, these populations are higher than the national average.
Facebook released diversity stats in 2021 that included LGBTQ data. Of its workforce, 10.6% of its American workers identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or asexual.
Even with many companies earning the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s rainbow seal of approval (meaning they have LGBTQ inclusion policies), few numbers in this group are reaching the top levels of these companies.
Additionally, LGBTQ women have reported discriminating workplace environments in the tech industry and often struggle to overcome deep-set stereotypes and eliminate haunting “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentalities.
Revealing the Wage Gap
Now, let’s get down to dollars.
Women aren’t paid the same as their male peers.
In Silicon Valley, the median male makes 61% more than the median female. Women are awarded far less equity, as well. Minority women fare even worse, with Black women CEOs receiving up to 38% less pay than their white male coworkers. It’s been reported that women who work in computer and mathematical fields earn 82 cents to the dollar that men earn doing the same job. Add that up: it amounts to a $516,120 median salary compared to $90,353.
Women are often offered less money.
Consider this: women receive lower salary offers than men for the same position, with men receiving about 60% higher salary offers.
Mothers take an additional pay hit.
When taking children into consideration, moms lose 4% of hourly earnings on average for each child they have (often called “the motherhood penalty”), while men make 6% more. This type of wage gap results in a significant loss of lifetime earnings for women, especially considering female breadwinners now make up more than 40% of the working population.
Female venture capitalists get less funding.
In 2019, women-led companies received $3.3 billion in investments from venture capitalists, a higher-earning than previous years but still significantly lower (for minorities, too) than men and representing only 2.8% of total capital invested in startups. This is even though, on average, women-operated, VC-backed tech startups generate annual revenues 12% higher than male-operated tech startups. Moreover, of nearly 22,000 publicly traded companies, those with more women in their leadership ranks were more profitable.
These numbers just don’t make dollars or sense. At this rate, it will take another 135.6 years to close the gender gap globally. We don’t have time for that. For women—and for the overall success of our businesses and culture—we have to make ch-ch-ch-changes.
How is This Affecting the Tech Industry?
To some, it may not seem like a big deal. Sure, these numbers are horror-movie-level frightening, and the tech industry is mostly male-populated. So what?
Well, for one, this glaring gender gap in tech means our businesses aren’t doing as well as they could be—across all industries.
Check this out: Women-led companies have historically performed three times better than those with male CEOs. This trend is true with startups, too. The venture-backed companies that were acquired most often had a 7% share of female execs, as opposed to 3% at unsuccessful (unacquired) firms.
Even the most valuable and innovative tech companies out there struggle with these gender-blind issues. Take the search engine behemoth; for example, Google only has a 32.5% female workforce. At Facebook, it’s similar—the technical workforce is only 37% female.
Women face harassment and sexism in the workplace, plus brazen hostility to family planning, pregnancy, and breastfeeding. The atmosphere fostered in such environments is not just harming us now. It’s going to keep adversely affecting future generations: girls who are interested in tech fields but might be dissuaded from entering them because of biases, harassment, exclusivity, gender inequality, discrimination, and other toxic realities. That means our futures—and the future of our businesses—might be as bleak as our present if we don’t make some crucial adjustments—and soon.
Houston, we have a big problem.
“Most people don’t have to look far to see the gender gap play out in any number of industries,” says Tracey Welson-Rossman, Chief Marketing Officer of Chariot Solutions and founder of TechGirlz. “Tech is no different. Whether it be workplace conditions, a lack of access to key creative roles, or finding out that a male colleague gets paid more for the same work, the tech industry suffers the same shortcomings and challenges that all industries face. By making a concerted effort to increase women in this industry, we will begin to see a change. That change will accelerate as even more women become empowered through these careers, normalizing the idea of women in tech and earning them increased economic power.”
That said, let’s chat about what we can all do to turn the tides. There’s a lot of work to be done.
Related: Fixing Tech’s Gender Gap—10 Questions with Author Therese Huston
Companies Working to Mind the Gender Gap
Let’s take a look at a few companies that are putting in the work to make the gender gap a thing of the past.
Remember that scary stat about turnover for women in tech? Double the rate of men? Well, for the past several years, outdoor clothing company Patagonia has had a 100% return rate.
Yes, you read that right: 100% of the women who have had or adopted children at Patagonia in recent years have returned to work. Most companies are losing new moms—49% of qualified women with children leave or off-ramp for a period of time. So what are they doing right? A lot of things.
For one, they value caregiving. Patagonia offers an on-site child care center—which only 6% (optimistically) of companies provide (even though it’s shown to be a highly useful retention tool). The child care center is run by qualified (read: often bilingual and childhood development-trained) teachers, offers safe places to nurse newborns, ample paid leave, and nannies provided to accompany the parent and child if they need to travel for work.
These are huge steps, especially with glaring childcare stats: A large percentage of families are spending around 10-20% of their household income on childcare, and in many places, full-time preschool for a four-year-old was found to be more. Childcare is an expense 40% higher than the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ definition of affordability, more expensive than in-state public college tuition.
For years, Big Four firm Deloitte has earned a spot on “Best Companies to Work For” lists. Clearly, they’re doing something right for women in their workplace.
Deloitte offers paid parental leave—the U.S. is one of few countries surveyed that does not protect the right to paid parental leave by federal law. And historically, only about 25% of companies offered it fully-paid.
Deloitte is a winner here, even for women without children; 44% of the company’s women are earning promotions to the manager level or above. Plus, in 2013, they opened a leadership center to discuss and promote inclusion, which benefits all.
Netflix boasts unlimited paid parental leave for a year following the birth or adoption of a child, for birth and non-birth parents and part- and full-time employees—far and away one of the best in tech. Plus, their offices have 29 lactation rooms, a major win.
Investment firm KKR provides childcare options to parents traveling for work—like nannies who can accompany parents. They also boast some impressive stats about their workforce: 44% are female, and 21% hold senior executive positions. They also recently launched an in-house mentoring program and an Inclusion and Diversity Council. Moves in the right direction, for sure.
Intel deserves a pat on the back for furthering the education of girls around the world. The company is a strategic partner of the 10×10 Girl Rising campaign, which spreads awareness about the need for accessible education for young girls. The more opportunities girls are provided to learn, the better our tech landscape looks.
Boston Consulting Group
Not only has Boston Consulting Group (BCG) been named the best company for women by women, but they’ve made hiring and promoting women a priority. 44% of the workforce is female.
The accolades only start there; BCG has been named one of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality” for 14 straight years—they’ve earned a perfect score on their rankings for the fourteenth time. Plus, their Apprenticeship in Action initiative—a response to women’s desire for increased mentorship opportunities in the company—has helped increase female promotion rates by 22% among senior managers.
They also use a Women in the World platform to amplify women’s experiences in the workplace and have equal retention and promotion rates among men and women globally. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, the company was a Catalyst Award winner in 2018. In fact, their steps forward (and their accolades) are numerous.
Slack was a pioneer in reporting the breakdown of ethnic minorities in their female workforce, and they’re also leading the way with their LGBTQ data. They also boasted a nearly 45% female workforce in 2020.
These praiseworthy examples aside, the sad reality is that most companies are not doing this well. To redress the balance, businesses desperately need to put strategies in place to counteract conscious (and unconscious) discrimination and gender biases. We’re human and all subject to them. But now, it’s time to start doing something about biases — in a big way.
So how can everyone—businesses and average Janes and Joes alike—support, encourage, and lift women in the tech workplace? How can we foster a female-inclusive future?
How Can We Close the Gender Gap?
So glad you asked. Let us count the (many) ways.
1. Amplify Women’s Voices
Time to get out your megaphone. A vital key in championing women at work is equalizing voices. Whether it’s interrupting, mansplaining, or having others take credit for their ideas, women have confirmed that this is a serious problem in the workplace.
In fact, after having to elbow their way into meetings and fighting to be heard, female White House staffers during the Obama administration developed the amplification strategy to lift and bolster one another’s voices. Amplification started out as women supporting women, female staffers acknowledging each others’ contributions. Still, it led to much more: more women being consulted in discussions and even numbers of females in the president’s inner circle reaching parity with men.
Amplification techniques can help counteract existing practices, especially in the tech workplace, and improve listening skills. Not sure how to begin amplifying? Start in your meeting rooms. Better yet, in your own cubicle. How? Role-play these sample statements with yourself before bringing them to the boardroom:
- I want to emphasize what _____ said. It really demonstrated how _____.
- I really appreciate your comment, ____. Your idea could really help us ____.
- As ____ said, we can improve in this area by ____.
- ____’s idea of ____ could be the solution to ____.
In tech—as in all other workplaces—we need to amplify aggressively. Listen to women, actively include them in conversations and give credit where it’s (desperately) due. Your business and the quality of your work environment will be better for it. And so will your listening skills!
2. Click Follow
Don’t just use social media to view cute puppy pics or side-eye your cousin’s inflammatory FB post. Put your clicks to good use: follow women on your platforms.
Flood your timeline with female voices and learn from their unique perspectives and experience. At the very least, this will make your media consumption more equalized, which can help you avoid biases and be more well-informed. In addition, it can help you make better business decisions and expand your knowledge.
Need some ideas? Try following these awesome women in WordPress on Twitter. Another excellent list: amazing women of color on Twitter to keep up with.
We’ve also got some fantastic women featured on our blog:
- The first female engineer to grace the cover of Wired magazine
- A woman who turned her childhood love for a Commodore 64 into a bonafide freelance company
- A kick-butt developer who creates apps for social change
- An in-tune author committed to making women’s voices heard
- A diversity-conscious Silicon Valley intern who challenged Facebook
You’ll want to check them out.
3. Read Their Literature
Don’t just lean in. Educate yourself by reading women’s voices on the published page. Dust off your library card, peruse Amazon’s virtual stacks, or consult your local bookstore for literature that champions women and offers you opportunities to be part of the needed change in tech.
Consider it required reading. We’ve got a great list of must-read books for women in tech to get you started.
4. Ditch the Damaging Dialogues
You know that thing you sometimes hear around the water cooler, a convo involving a woman that goes something like: “You’re cute for an engineer!” or “You’re really good at this—for a woman.”
These kinds of seemingly-harmless remarks are anything but benign. They’re not merely worn-out phrases; they’re affronts perpetuating harmful stereotypes and fostering an atmosphere of prejudice. After all, it’s one of the big issues: 39% of women say that gender bias in the workplace is why they’re underrepresented in technology.
It takes practice—and lots of it—to halt these disparaging slights in their tracks, but you need to start now.
Before you speak: stop and think. Another helpful tool? Role-playing. After all, practice makes progress.
You can also do your part to change the stereotype of the (mostly) male face of tech: start by checking out the impressive #IAmAnEngineer campaign.
Related: 6 Things Women in Tech Are Tired of Hearing
5. Invest in Their Businesses
Really want to help turn the tides in tech? Put your money where your mouth is: invest in women-owned businesses. As we mentioned earlier, female-fronted companies perform well. Fortune 500 companies with at least three female directors have seen a 66% increase in return of their invested capital, a 42% increase in return of sales, and a 53% return on equity increase.
Still, there are nearly 13 million businesses owned by women, and they receive only a little over 2% of venture capital funding. Even with the same pitch, a study reported, men were consistently chosen over women to receive financing.
If you can’t be an angel investor and support women-led businesses with big bucks, shop their stores. Ever heard of Rent the Runway? What about Minted, Birchbox, Brit + Co, Lynda.com, Glossier, or 23andme? These, and many others, are women-owned companies that began as startups.
Women own or co-own only 2% of tech startups, so by being choosy about where you spend your dollars, you could be supporting women, even those across the globe, and encouraging more to pitch their problem-solving ideas (you could also be helping to end poverty!).
Another way you can get involved? Contribute to women’s crowdfunding campaigns. At Indiegogo, 47% of campaigns are led by women. This isn’t surprising since women often have to look for alternative funding to kickstart their projects. Look for crowdfunding projects that you’re passionate about and loosen the purse strings. Your support will be a virtual No. 1 foam finger for women.
6. Encourage Younger Generations
While we certainly want to change the current state of affairs for women in tech, a large part of our job is forward-facing—creating a positive environment for future women and girls. It’s not just about closing the gender gap, either. It’s about education, empowerment, and evolution. The opportunity (and responsibility) to drive change for the future lies on our shoulders.
“I would categorize ‘women in tech’ as a work in progress,” says Welson-Rossman. “While there has been much progress made over the last 10 years, like companies understanding that diverse teams are an asset, the total number of women in the field is growing at a less than ideal pace. This is definitely a marathon, not a sprint, but we all must do our part to accelerate the pace of change. At TechGirlz, we see a number of small wins that show we’re headed in the right direction. That change needs to start in the primary and secondary schools to help institutionalize the idea of women in the workplace and in our culture.”
Currently, only about 9% of girls between the ages of 13 and 17 are interested in STEM careers—and based on the stats we’ve shared, there are clear reasons they’re dissuaded from pursuing a tech career. This needs to be changed fast. By 2026, there are estimated to be 1.2 million computer science jobs unfulfilled in the U.S., but only 3% of female students would consider a career in technology as their first choice.
Encouraging younger generations to get involved in STEM fields needs to start early (way before they set foot on a university campus). Girls who try AP Computer Science (this number is growing!) in high school are 10x more likely to major in it. Providing adequate tech-related education early is crucial to fostering interest and participation in STEM. Early training could make all the difference.
A lesson here? Mind the coding gap. What is the coding gap, anyway? Well, as with most things in tech, there’s a significant gender discrepancy in the percentage of people filling computing professions. It’s as unfair as it sounds—women (and other underrepresented minorities) have to work twice as hard as men for these types of jobs.
Coding remains one of the most essential job skills used across industries should be presented to youth, especially girls, early on. While social and environmental factors hinder more women and girls from learning about and entering programming positions, we’ve got to make it more accessible and appealing.
Computer science is not just a nice option for students; it’s a crucial skill needed in the 21st century. Knowledge of computer science is foundational.
- Start youngsters early (infancy isn’t too soon) with books, games (especially female-created ones!), and classes. We’ve curated a list of 65 online coding resources for you to browse.
- Get girls to participate in the Hour of Code campaign. It’s helped students to write more than 27 billion lines of code. Even better? 49% of the students participating were girls. Boo-yah.
- Introduce them to positive female role models and mentors in technology (like supermodel Karlie Kloss, who advocates for women in tech and created a national coding camp for girls).
- Get involved and sponsor clubs, classes, camps, or other opportunities for girls.
- Learn about leadership and initiative from programs like Girl Develop It, TechGirlz, Within, Girls Who Code, #YesWeCode, Black Girls Code, and Women in Technology.
If you’re an educator, remember that it may take more than just incorporating computer science and tech into your curriculum. You may have to change the packaging.
In 2014, for the first time, more females than males were signed up for an intro computer science course at the University of California Berkeley. How? The class name was changed from “Introduction to Symbolic Programming” to “Beauty and the Joy of Computing,” which increased the female enrollment by 50%. Clearly, to empower girls, creativity is required.
“The first step is helping [girls] understand that ‘tech’ does not necessarily mean coding or software development,” says Welson-Rossman. “The nature of work in America has changed so dramatically over the past decade that nearly every career touches on tech in some way. So being a woman in tech can range from robotics to gaming to mobile to online marketing. If you delve deeper, you realize that tech is fundamentally reshaping even more traditional industries like manufacturing or farming. Of course, coding is still a great career option, but as all women know, one size does not fit all. We need to reframe the conversation of what it means to be a technologist so that more girls can get excited and embrace a career in the field.”
TechGirlz does this by striving to reset common misconceptions about what it means to be a technologist through fun, engaging courses designed especially for girls. They build interest in a wide range of areas, including coding, game design, cybersecurity, tech in science, medicine, art, and more. They help girls create a sense of community with one another and meet women who can serve as role models.
And remember: it’s never too late for you to learn to code. Don’t think it’s out of reach if you’re mid-career. Start with our hefty list of coding resources and jumpstart your programming path.
Related: 3 Ways to Debug Tech’s Diversity Gap
7. Be a Mentor
According to a survey, 40% of women said they are underrepresented in technology due to a lack of mentors; 48% said the lack of female role models in the field hindered their equal representation in the workplace.
Women miss out on a lot of high-quality mentoring experiences—especially those that open doors for leadership, growth, and promotion. Our cultures and businesses pay the hefty price for these omissions.
If you’re a leader in your workplace, mentor and champion women by offering guidance and teaching. Make it your mission to encourage and empower them. Commit to providing equal access to mentoring opportunities, giving actionable advice, helping women network and make key connections, and advocating for them in the workplace (e.g., offer their names up for promotions and meaningful assignments, amplify their voices in group settings, provide them equal growth opportunities, etc.).
Fix the faulty pipeline of women reaching leadership roles in the workplace and achieving greater progress by being a mentor.
8. Mark Your Calendars
Got a pen? You’ll want to make a note of these important holidays in your planner:
- March: Women’s History Month. Don’t let women’s contributions go unnoticed anymore. You can honor the giant leaps forward women have made in history and society by educating yourself or hosting a company-wide celebration throughout the month of March.
- March 8: International Women’s Day. A celebration of all women, this girl-powered holiday is about empowerment and appreciation. Acknowledge the work of women in your workplace and take steps to improve how you interact with, help, and support them. This year’s theme is #EachforEqual.
- February 11: International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Help inspire the rising generation to pursue careers in STEM by helping debunk myths, introducing learning opportunities, and sharing the stories of influential women in STEM.
Start prepping now—focusing on the growth opportunities these days provide can help build your continued momentum for change.
9. Acknowledge Faults and Address Them
Nobody’s perfect. It’s true. But all of us—especially those of us in the tech industry—can start taking real steps to improve the environment that exists for women in the workplace. Often, this means tucking into an extra-large slice of humble pie and seeing our weaknesses with clear eyes.
“There are many companies working hard to right this dynamic, but no one company can do everything right, 100% of the time,” says Welson-Rossman. “The challenge is for companies to continue to strive for excellence and to be open to self-evaluation. The companies that are on the right path aren’t afraid to look inward and be honest with what works and what doesn’t.”
Google, as we noted earlier, is a good example of this. The tech giant is no stranger to the gender gap. Its workforce is only 33% female, and nearly 72% of its leadership is male. And in 2017, the company faced lawsuits from former female employees who alleged the tech giant enacted systemic pay discrimination and the denial of promotions and other growth opportunities. Yikes.
However, since the release of these statistics and the litigation news, Google has made strides to improve its numbers and work culture. In 2014, it announced a $50 million investment in programs that would help spark girls’ interest in STEM education, including a “Made With Code” campaign and partnerships with Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, and the Girl Scouts of America. This was a big deal since youth need those skills: 65% of young people will work in jobs that don’t currently exist. Another huge step: Google launched Women Techmakers, a membership initiative designed not only to empower women but to provide them with community and resources (like scholarships!).
Your company, too, can take proactive steps to reverse the harmful damage done by discrimination and bias. There are tons of ways. But where to start?
Here’s an idea: talk about the issues. Address your current situation. A study showed that while 82% of men in startups thought their companies spent the “right amount of time” addressing diversity, nearly half of women disagreed, saying “not enough time was devoted.”
“Companies must commit to diversity as a core value,” says Welson-Rossman. “And once they do, they must provide appropriate levels of support through training and mentorship programs to help new technologists grow and thrive.”
We have lots of ideas we’ve discussed here, but why not start there? Talk. Bring up these issues and make it a company-wide discussion. Then commit.
We all have conscious (and unconscious) biases, and we all make mistakes—it’s time to acknowledge them and begin tackling the issues. By discovering and unearthing our current shortfalls, we can start to lift at the roots of the gender gap problem in tech, not just the branches.
Looking Toward the (Female) Future
Even (or especially) at the start of a new decade, it’s important to look ahead. Where do we want to be in 2030? Where do we need to be to have a more inclusive, thriving, and impactful tech industry in the future? Even with positive strides forward (thanks, suffragists!), we’re still at the beginning of the race.
Let’s honor the groundbreaking effect of the 19th amendment by working to correct the vast gender imbalance, not only in tech but in all areas—by hearing women’s voices, protecting their rights, and including them in places where crucial decisions are being made.
New companies and startups can address these issues from the beginning, prioritizing diversity in hiring and putting in place appropriate benefits for women. (Project Include can help!)
All companies, including the well-established, should work to implement explicit inclusion and diversity representation goals and a comprehensive plan to achieve them. This could mean forming special committees or councils. Companies (and all human beings) should invest more money in businesses and operations that empower and serve women and minorities, whether that be by the way they use their dollars or the causes they choose to speak about. Employees can organize and speak out against unfair tech practices and how companies can change for the better.
More people can get involved by supporting organizations that help young girls increase their access to STEM education and resources. They can be mentors and teach digital literacy.
These are basic, immediate to-dos, but with some female-fueled elbow grease, we can see more women filling the roles and leadership positions of tech companies, receiving more crucial VC, and impacting the tech industry for a more fruitful future.
We need more women on the front lines of tech, influencing the future of our cultures and businesses for good. We need women. We need their work, their ideas, and their influence. We need their voices.
“Women in technology is more than just a headline or a political rallying cry,” says Welson-Rossman. “Bringing more women into the technology workforce produces a more competitive business environment that can fire on all cylinders and at full capacity.”
We can all move onward and upward together. We can do it. We feel it in our code.