Black Friday

Gender Gap in Tech Companies Portends Future Problems

Stan Ward

Stan Ward

February 15, 2016

In this US election cycle, one candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is running very much on her goal of “break the highest glass ceiling” in the country by capturing the White House. She is supported by a legion of female supporters in this endeavour. While she continues her crusade to be the first woman President of the US, many of her gender are suffering from massive underemployment for highly-prized jobs in the tech sector.

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Congress, still a bastion of maleness, today boasts almost 20% female membership. Considering that 100 years ago, women comprised less than half of one-percent of that august body, 20% isn’t bad, and is slightly more than the Silicon Valley average for meaningful tech jobs! Of the 89 Silicon Valley venture capitalists ranked by TheFunded.com some five years ago, only one was a woman. And Apple had an all-male management team. A glass ceiling, indeed!

Few women work in the more mentally rigorous field of programming and other technical jobs. They are instead often relegated to the Marketing and HR departments, so as a whole, they make up maybe a quarter to a third of the total workforce. But on the technical side, Google leads the pack with a meagre 17%. The National Center for Women and Information Technology reports that industry-wide, only 26% of the 2014 computing workforce was comprised of women.This at a time when, according to White House statistics, there will be a huge gap in the number of vacancies, that is, jobs available versus candidates to fill them, in this increasingly important sector over the next five years. There will be a predicted to be

This at a time when, according to White House statistics, there will be a huge gap in the number of vacancies i.e. jobs available versus candidates to fill them in this increasingly important sector over the next five years. There will be a predicted to be 1.4 million computer science jobs available by 2020, and only 400,000 CS graduates with the skills necessary to fill them. Women, therefore, are the untapped pool of talent that tech companies can target. So why don’t they?

An article in Wired sheds some light on the problem, citing perceptions as a primary culprit. Stereotyping, psychologists say, accounts for much of the dilemma; and once it’s in place, it becomes difficult to reverse – sometimes taking generations. Pop culture and parenting are villains in this drama. Parents steer their child in a certain direction – girls play with Barbie dolls and play nurse, boys build things and play doctor. Hollywood sustains these perceptions with male-centric TV shows and movies, while Barbie accessories bolster the belief that women are destined to fill inferior roles in life. Interestingly, women in Western countries use technology 17% more than their male counterparts, and are the majority of owners of tech gadgets. So, doesn’t it seem odd that more women aren’t encouraged to participate on the production side of the equation?

The good news is that the gap may be getting narrower, as statistics such as those above become more widely known. A mini-revolution is underway, according to Wired, in which the primary goal is to increase gender diversity in the tech workforce. Buoyed by this effort is the realization by Silicon Valley firms that hiring women in IT roles is beneficial to business. Tech companies with ladies in leadership positions have a 34% higher return on investment (ROI) than their counterparts. Companies are coming to understand that women consume more than 50% of their products and, moreover, are limited in appeal if not shaped by diverse views. As documentary filmmaker Robin Hauser Reynolds puts it,

The idea is that when you don’t have any diversity, you end up creating products that serve the population that is most like you.

One way that the tech companies are addressing the issue is in launching what they term “returnships” to lure back women to the workforce, specifically the tech industry. So far, seven firms have partnered with the Society of Women Engineers in setting up “returnships” this year. It is hoped that mini-steps such as these will begin to mitigate the gender imbalance existing in the tech arena. The question is, does this mark a turning point for the movement, or is it a band-aid when the problem requires major surgery? Only time will tell.

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