A 2015 Washington Post op-ed put a spotlight on the gender gap in technology, calling it “male-dominated,” and was critical of the disparity in pay between genders, calling it even more acute than in the rest of the business world. It took the position that if you are a woman looking for a job in the tech world, geography plays a big role in how well you get paid. A ranking by personal finance Web site, SmartAsset, released its “Best Cities for Women in Tech” report and named Washington, DC, as the number-one city based on the 2013 Census Bureau data. The Nation’s Capital led with women making up 37% of the tech workforce, the highest share of any of the fifteen cities on the list.
So why did Washington lead the list? The Federal government’s hiring policies are the answer, placing special emphasis on ensuring that its workforce reflects the population at large. But does Washington really deserve that number-one ranking? Sure, women have growth opportunities in the Nation’s Capital, but they are still not well-represented in executive-level positions.
Is it reasonable, then, to expect the tech sector to be a beacon of progressive thinking and include the female perspective in the top ranks of its leading and emerging companies?
Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.
While some of the highest-ranking executives in technology are women – Marissa Mayer, Meg Whitman and Sheryl Sandberg immediately come to mind – only 6% of CEO positions at the top 100 technology companies belong to women. In fact, only 22% of the overall IT workforce is female, according the National Center for Women & Information Technology.
Unfortunate as they are, these numbers aren’t surprising when you consider that fewer women are pursuing STEM-related degrees. The National Science Foundation reports that, in 2012, fewer than 18% of undergraduate computing degrees were awarded to women, down from 37% in 1985. And a study by Women in Technology International reveals that, while 56% of professional positions in the U.S are held by women, they hold only 25% of IT jobs.
The numbers get even more worrisome. Only 11% of tech company executives are women; 5% of tech start-ups are owned by women; 56% of women who enter the field of technology leave for other careers. Part of the problem is that women earn significantly less than men for the same work. In computer programming, they earn 5% less; as software engineers, they earn 9% less; and women who are computer and information system managers are 18% behind their male counterparts.
A good deal of the current literature on the subject provides ample reasons why organizations and the nation would benefit by including the female perspective in the policy-making and strategy-developing ranks of the technology sector.
Studies show that women on tech teams boost problem-solving and creativity; teams with at least one female outperform all-male groups in collective intelligence tests; and ROI is 34% higher for tech companies with women in management. So, why isn’t there a more welcoming and supportive environment for women in technology?
Stereotypes of women as being less qualified than men for leadership positions, in spite of research and historical examples to the contrary, still exist to an alarming extent among boards, investors and others with great influence over the choice of organizational leaders. But, when women exhibit leadership characteristics desired in men – hard-driving, can-do attitude and other “culturally masculine” qualities – they are often viewed as aggressive or “cold-hearted” and unlikely to be a good fit.
Women are riding a Catch-22 merry-go-round. One of the recognized keys to a leadership role is support and sponsorship. Men have learned how to identify, and even position, future male leaders and help them join their ranks. Since there are far fewer women at that level, there are fewer role models and the numbers are even lower when seeking women with the time or inclination to assist another women. This is, unfortunately, even more pronounced within the tech sector.
So, women are left with male role models and often conform to those behaviors, and by doing so they give up the very things that make them unique and provide their organizations with a perspective not offered by their male colleagues. That perspective is based on a set of experiences different from men’s. Such a perspective can broaden and deepen an organization’s insight, making it more effective and agile; keys to successfully meeting future business challenges.
The tech world will only continue to grow – critical for the nation’s international trade and security – and successfully face emerging global competitive challenges by utilizing all the talent available. That includes recognizing and supporting women for leadership roles.
Women who aspire to those roles also have work to do. They must be ready to assume and succeed in those positions by preparing academically; identifying forward-thinking organizations for employment; and seeking supportive sponsors, women who have achieved success as organizational leaders.
Organizations that will succeed will be those that recognize and encourage the unique point of view women offer, and create a welcoming and supportive environment for women and men alike. Until that happens, it will be hard for women in technology (or anywhere else) to move into the leadership positions for which they are qualified and which they have earned.
Jan Molino is the CEO & Managing Partner of Aspire Ascend, a service provider and member-based organization, that helps women advance toward leadership. She is an experienced speaker and facilitated numerous forums and panel discussions on this subject. Jan can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.