Why the Tech Industry Needs More Women and What to Do About It

Gender bias in computer science and technology seems like a way of life. However, back in 1985 upwards of 37 percent of computer science degrees were completed by women. Compare that to the paltry 18 percent in 2012. It’s no wonder that the gender gap in computing is garnering so much attention lately. Without proactive efforts to change the status quo, what’s to stop the gap from widening further?

The tech gender gap today

With so few female computer science graduates, it’s not surprising that women hold only 25% of the jobs in the tech industry. Keep in mind that that number includes all departments, like marketing, sales, and support. And that figure isn’t likely to improve unless something is done. Recent research commissioned from Accenture by Girls Who Code estimates that if current trends continue, the total number of women in computing will fall to 22% by 2025.

When you look at the actual percentage of women currently in engineering roles the figure drops dramatically. Take for example two monoliths in the industry, Facebook and Google. In 2016 Facebook’s female engineers held 16% of technical jobs, and at Google they held 18%. Twitter fared far worse at 10%. These figures are standard across the tech industry – in Europe the percentage shrinks to a mere 7%.

The disparate ratio of female engineers to male is only part of the issue. Of the women who secure jobs in the tech industry as a whole, upwards of 56% leave after 10-20 years, compared to only 17% of men. This results in a gender gap that extends to upper management, further exacerbating the divide. As a result, one of biggest reasons women leave their tech jobs is work environments that aren’t female-friendly.

Women bring a lot to the table

Women’s workforce participation has a resounding impact on driving the U.S. economy forward. Computing jobs are the highest paid and fastest-growing sector today. In 2015 there were 500,000 new computing jobs to be filled in the U.S. but fewer than 40,000 new computer science graduates. That’s a lot of jobs left on the table. And it’s a deficit that’s only likely to grow as advances in computing continue to redefine the global economy and society as a whole.

When women are left out of the workforce, the U.S. economy isn’t all that loses out. Companies also lose big money. Executive teams with at least one woman tend to receive valuations that are 64% higher than those with only men. Companies with women directors also outperform companies without women directors in numerous financial metrics, including return on equity and average growth. And the impact of all these metrics snowball – they ultimately determine how quickly these companies can grow and add more jobs.

Notably, women users outnumber men on all the major social media sites, with the exception of LinkedIn. They also contribute $20 trillion annually to consumer spending in the U.S., of which a sizable portion is on tech products. It only makes sense that bringing women into the research, engineering, design, and development of things that they use would not only create a better user experience, but it would also make better products and services.

Hacking the status quo through education

Obviously, such a complex problem isn’t solved overnight. With so much at stake both economically and socially, leaders are working on solving the tech gender gap from a variety of angles. Getting girls interested in pursuing computer science degrees as early as possible is of primary concern. To gain insights into this goal, nonprofit Girls Who Code recently sponsored a large research study dubbed Cracking the Code.

Girls aged 12-18, undergraduate college students, and industry leaders were all surveyed, which led to some interesting conclusions about the best strategies for keeping girls interested in computing at every stage in their education. Here were some of the study’s key recommendations:

  • During the middle school years, girls are 18% more likely to be interested in computing if they’re exposed to it. To encourage them, parents and teachers should demonstrate that computing is fun and not just for boys by using engaging, hands-on tools, such as games designed for girls. Making computer science classes mandatory can also help.
  • While in high school, if girls don’t have a friend in a computing class they’re 33% less likely to study it in college. Summer camps that offer computing classes combat this trend. Approximately 81% of girls who attended a camp with computing classes were interested in studying it at college, compared to only 52% who studied it only at school.
  • In their college years women should not only be encouraged by schools and professors to major or minor in computer science, they should also be exposed to coding—regardless of their major—through campus and summer immersion programs.

Other recommendations included creating government- and industry-supported grassroots campaigns to dispel myths around computing, as well as partnerships between colleges and businesses to launch mentorship programs. The report estimated that, if these recommendations were followed, women in computing would potentially triple to 3.9 million by 2025.

Tackling industry barriers and beyond

Getting women to earn computing degrees and then later decide to pursue careers in computing is only part of the battle. In order for the gender gap to close, they also need to stay in their jobs. Achieving this goal will require more than just training seminars on gender diversity and equality in the workplace.

Women need other female role models and mentors in their field to encourage recruitment and retention. However, the first hurdle is that they need to be offered jobs. According to research in a recent Harvard Business Review article, if there’s only one woman in a pool of applicants, she won’t be hired.

One way to ensure women go farther in computing faster would be to close the female tech industry financing gap. This would likely encourage more women to start businesses in the field, who would in turn be inclined to hire and mentor more women. Other solutions include making businesses more women-friendly, like adjusting family leave policies and hiring recruiters that focus on developing female talent.

Closing the gap has never been more important

Taking the issue seriously goes far beyond women’s equality, workplace diversity, and corporate responsibility. In order for the U.S. to maintain its competitiveness in the global economy the gender gap must be closed. Both innovation and the bottom line suffer in the end, and a number of important studies prove it. Gender-balanced teams consistently outperform male-dominated teams in terms of both sales and profits.

It makes sense that gender diversity has big payoffs. Breanden Beneschott, the co-founder of Toptal, a leading recruiting company for tech talent, succinctly puts it: “If men and women are equally intelligent, statistically speaking, then out of the smartest ten people in the world, five should be male and five should be female. Thus, if your team is anything less than an equal balance of men and women, then your team is probably not the best it can be.”