Why are there so few women in tech? In this 4-part series, SpudnikLab looks at some compelling data. We also speak to 3 women in the tech industry about their experiences, and what can be done to get more females into the tech field.
We know there are far fewer women in tech than men, but it’s when we see the statistics that it really hits home.
In the US, in 2015, women made up 57% of professionals but only 25% of computer professionals. Women are more likely than men to leave the tech field. The most common reasons were workplace conditions, a lack of access to top creative roles and a sense of ‘feeling stalled in their career’.
[Source: Ashcraft, Catherine; McLain, Brad and Elizabeth Eger (2016) Women in Tech: The Facts. 2016 update. National Center for Women and Information Technology: Colorado, USA.]
In the EU, while some women gain professional qualifications in tech, there’s attrition when it comes to these women going on to actually work in the tech industry. More than half of men earning degrees in IT (information technology) in the EU get digital jobs, but only one-quarter of the women.
[Source: UNESCO and Equal Skills Coalition (2019) I’d Blush if I Could: Closing Gender Divides in Digital Skills through Education. Policy paper. UNESCO: Paris.]
In parts of the developing world, the barriers to women entering the tech industry start with basic access to the internet. In 2016, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council affirmed ‘the importance of applying a comprehensive human rights-based approach in providing and expanding access to Internet’ and adopted a resolution stating that Internet access was a fundamental right.
[Source: To be smart, the digital revolution will need to be inclusive. Alessandro Bello, Tonya Blowers, Susan Schneegans and Tiffany Straza. Published in 2021 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization]
Far fewer women in tech in developing countries starts with females having less digital access
In developing countries, in 2017, women were less likely (37%) than men (43%) to have access to both a mobile phone and the internet, according to the Global Findex Database. In some countries, men are twice as likely to have access to these technologies, such as in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India and Pakistan. In other countries, including some of the most populous, there is no significant gender gap, such as in Brazil, China, Colombia, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey.
Gender discrimination and bias towards women in the tech industry start early
Girls Who Code, a nonprofit organisation based in New York, works towards closing the global gender gap in tech, and has locations in North America, the UK and India. In December 2018, the organisation administered a survey of over 1,000 college-aged women— most of whom were under the age of 20—in over 250 colleges in the US about their experiences applying for internships and jobs in computer science. The data indicates that gender discrimination in the US impacts women as young as 19—an age when they are just trying to break into the industry.
About half of the over 1,000 women surveyed (528 women or 52 percent) either had a negative experience applying for a job in tech, or know a woman who has.
Sexist attitudes against women in the tech industry embedded in patriarchal structures are a deterrent to females entering
The experiences of these young women ranged from bias to discrimination to outright harassment, and were representative of startups and Fortune 500 companies alike. The women shared stories about implicit and explicit biases in interview processes—interviewers doubting their abilities, facing all-white, male interview panels, feeling an overwhelming pressure to consider their appearance, being passed over for less qualified male candidates, even being the targets of unwanted advances by male recruiters.
[Source: Girls Who Code 2019 Alumni Data Report. Applying for Internships as a Woman in Tech]
Testimonies and key findings from the Girls Who Code 2019 Alumni Report documenting widespread bias and gender discrimination against young women applying for internships in the tech industry in the US
- Overall, around half (528 women or 52%) of women have either had a negative experience or know a woman who has.
- Nearly 300 women, representing almost one-third of respondents (295 women or 29%), have reported negative experiences during an internship application process themselves; over 400 women (401 women or 40%) know other women who have had such experiences.
- Of those who had negative experiences, the majority (158 women or 54%) interviewed at a company with a noticeable lack of staff diversity.
- One quarter of women surveyed have had an interviewer focus on their personal attributes rather than their skills (74 or 25%).
- Nearly one quarter of women have encountered biased questions or inappropriate verbal remarks (61 or 21%).
- Respondents reported that women they know have had similar experiences; notably, nearly two-thirds (252 women or 63%) indicated that other women they know have encountered a lack of diversity at companies they have applied to intern at.
In our next post in the series, we speak to Singaporean content creator and software engineer Ainul Md Razib (@AinLovesCode on Instagram) about being a female in the tech industry in Singapore.