Women have a long history of being encouraged to pursue certain educational tracks. Men were encouraged to pursue careers as engineers, scientists, and mathematicians while women studied the humanities and went on to become wives and mothers. Though a lot has changed, the consequences of this way of thinking can still be felt today. While women make up a large portion of the workforce and are attending college at about the same rate as men, they represent a disproportionately small percentage of technology experts. This can present unique challenges for women trying to make headway in a male-dominated field. Read on to learn more about the current landscape for women in technology and how we can increase leadership roles for women in this sector.
Women in Tech Statistics
Let’s take a closer look at the numbers and just how well women are represented in the technology field. As of 2015, women make up 47% of the U.S. workforce. However, women hold just 26.7% of tech-related positions according to a 2021 study done by AnitaB.org. Boardroom Insiders also found that just 22% of tech leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies are held by women.
A breakdown of the 25% of women in tech across all levels of employment shows that 5% are Asian, 3% are Black, and just 1% are Hispanic. These numbers are especially telling when you consider that STEM jobs have seen a growth rate of 79% since 1990 while employment, in general, has increased by just 34%. The tech industry has clearly experienced a boom with all sorts of positions being added, but women continue to be marginalized.
The Degree-Gap for Women in Technology
The National Science Foundation found that women are closing in on men when it comes to earning a degree in engineering and science. However, when you look at just computer science degrees, there is a lot of room for improvement. In 1997, women earned 27% of all computer science degrees and that number dropped to 19% in 2016. The good news is that more women who do choose to pursue computer science degrees are going on to earn a master’s degree in their field.
Once women have completed their degrees, an employment retention gap becomes apparent. Just 38% of women with a computer science degree actually end up working in their field. Compare that to 53% for men. A similar gap occurs in the engineering field with 24% of women ending up in the field, compared to 30% for men. These numbers demonstrate a problem with retaining women in STEM positions.
The Importance of Women in Technology
Again and again, studies have shown that businesses benefit from a more diverse workforce. Even adding just one woman to the management team can be the catalyst for increasing asset basis points by 8 to 13. More women in leadership teams can mean even bigger improvements. For example, businesses with three or more female leaders enjoy a median increase in ROS of 11+ points over a period of five years. Furthermore, companies that have a leadership team where 30% are female see a 15% increase in profits compared to companies without any female leaders. The numbers are clear; diversity makes better businesses.
How to Increase Female Leadership Roles
For businesses that recognize the benefits of having a more diverse workforce, the next challenge is to recruit and hire new people for various positions. Here are a few tips to help you increase female employees in leadership roles:
- Take stock of where you stand currently. Before taking steps forward, you need to understand the current data regarding diversity at your company.
- Work with third-party recruiters and utilize internal employees to begin building relationships with potential hires.
- Make sure that you are creating job descriptions that are gender-neutral.
- Put together an interviewing team that includes women.
- With executive hires, use the first 30 days to focus on diverse candidates before widening the pool.
- Make sure that you have a company culture that supports women and allows them to thrive.
- Regularly examine your pay structure to make sure it is equitable.
- Implement mentorship programs and other advancement opportunities so that diverse hires can move up within the company.
- Take a close look at management and hiring processes to ensure they are free from bias.
While most of the responsibility of increasing diversity lies with technology companies, there are also some things that women can do to make their presence known and increase their chances of being chosen for leadership roles.
- Don’t be shy about sharing your goals with the management team. Make it clear that you want to take on leadership roles.
- Throw your hat in the ring for positions where you might not meet every qualification. The experience you lack may be something they are willing to provide training for.
- Be upfront about your accomplishments and ask your superiors for constructive feedback so that they can see your initiative and you can continue to improve.
- Look for mentors and professional organizations outside the company that can help you network, find new opportunities, and acquire new skills.
- Make sure that you have mentors who are able to provide long-term, engaged support.
How Women Can Navigate a Career in Technology
Since there are challenges associated with being a woman working in technology, it’s a good idea to have a strategy that will help you thrive and help pave the way for the next wave of engineers and women in technology.
1. Be sure to challenge yourself before others try to challenge you.
It is an unfortunate truth that women will have to work harder to earn the recognition they already deserve. It is okay to be ambitious and want to achieve success. Keep your reasons for wanting success and your other motivating factors at the forefront of your mind to provide direction and keep you on the right path. Also, remember that the path to success will be filled with failures. The key is to not give up and learn from these failures. You can’t achieve success without some failures and resilience.
2. Focus on problem-solving.
Problem-solving skills will translate well to any career and many other areas of life. You should be able to identify a problem and find a solution. This means being of service and working to solve problems both big and small so that the entire community can thrive. Women in technology also need to think about how they can use their passion to make the profession better for others so that entire generations can be inspired to achieve and contribute.
3. Leverage collaboration.
The drive to succeed can lead to a sense of competition that can pit colleagues against each other. This is the wrong approach to technology. Collaboration is key to innovation. Professionals in the technology industry should build a diverse team of supporters that represent different backgrounds and areas of expertise. These perspectives can create a rich learning environment where one person’s success doesn’t detract from the rest of the team. Every success should be celebrated because it is the product of a collaborative effort.
The importance of representation cannot be overstated. Women have an essential role to play when it comes to creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace.
Famous Women in Technology
While women have been told, both explicitly and implicitly, that STEM careers are for men, this hasn’t stopped them from following their own passions and making meaningful contributions. Here are just a few examples of famous women in technology from throughout history.
While Ada came from a famous family, she was able to make a name for herself and earn the title of “the world’s first computer programmer.” Ada was the daughter of Lord Byron and Anna Isabella-Byron and demonstrated incredible mathematical talents from an early age. Eventually, her interests lead to a professional relationship with the inventor Charles Babbage. His work with the “Analytical Engine” and other machinery was the precursor to what we know now as the computer. Ada’s work with the Analytical Engine and early computer programming laid the groundwork for Alan Turing who went on to create the first modern computing machine in the 1940s. Ada was a pioneer for other women in technology.
Heddy Lamar may be most recognizable as an actress, but she was also an important inventor and given credit for inventing WiFi. During the war, she worked with the composer George Antheil to create a frequency hopping system that was designed to interrupt the course of torpedoes. Eventually, the concepts behind this system were used to create WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS technology.
Rear Admiral Grace M. Hopper is a notable and well-known figure in the world of technology. She was a prolific computer scientist who worked on the Harvard Mark I and developed one of the first computer programming languages, COBOL, which is still in use. She is also credited with discovering the first computer bug in 1947 and coining the oft-quoted saying, “It is often easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.”
Mary Wilkes worked as a computer programmer and is known for inventing the LINC, which is one of the earliest systems that allowed for the rise of the personal computer. In fact, Mary had a LINC in her home, making her the first personal computer user in 1965. Today, guests can visit The National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park to learn more about her work.
Annie Easley was a true trailblazer and did wonders for improving diversity in STEM. When she started working for NASA, she was only the fourth black employee to be hired. She has a 34-year career at NASA where she collaborated on a long list of computer programs while also working as an equal employment opportunity counselor. Her work on the Centaur rocket played a vital role in allowing space shuttle launches to become a reality.
Today, it can be hard to imagine a time before Google. Thanks to Elizbeth, search engines are now a part of our daily lives. From 1972 to 1989, she was in charge of the Network Information Center (NIC) which was based in California. The NIC was responsible for developing and publishing internet directories that served as “white pages” and “yellow pages” and the domain naming system that places .com, .gov, .net, etc., at the end of web addresses.
As a NASA mathematician, Katherine used her understanding of trajectory analysis to help make the first space flight a success. Her ability to execute complex calculations also contributed to the other space missions, including John Glenn’s flight as the first American in orbit. She did all her calculations by hand and her fellow NASA employees and astronauts were so confident in her ability that Glenn was quoted as saying, “If she says they’re good … then I am ready to go.” When she was 97, she received America’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama.
Radia has the distinction of being known as the “Mother of the Internet.” She invented the algorithm that powers Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) and made the internet possible. Her work formed the basic parameters for the internet and still informs the way that data is moved throughout networks. Today, Radia still works as a computer programmer for Dell EMC and delivers speeches at gatherings all over the world.
Karen is perhaps best known for developing Inverse Document Frequency (IDF). This protocol evaluates the importance of keyword relevance and is now used by search engines to provide the best search results. She is widely cited and respected in her field and received the Lovelace Medal in 2007.
Adele played a pivotal role in developing Smalltalk-80, which is a programming language that led to the first Apple computer. She was generous enough to share her invention with Steve Jobs and that decision changed the world forever. Adele and her team are also credited with establishing the foundation of graphical user interfaces (GUI), which is a technology that people use on a daily basis.
Women don’t tend to be remembered and celebrated within the world of technology, but it is clear that they have made major contributions and our society wouldn’t be the same if they were discouraged from pursuing their passions.
The technology sector is going to continue to grow at an exponential rate and that means high demand for filling STEM positions. More women are earning STEM degrees, which is excellent news for companies since there is every indication that companies with diverse leadership enjoy more success. Now the challenge is for women in technology to demand their rightful place on leadership boards and for companies to create a welcoming and supportive environment for all women.
What does it mean to be a woman in technology?
Being a woman in technology comes with some unique challenges. There can be professional barriers that require women to make sure that they are challenging themselves to succeed, building a supportive team of collaborators, and actively being a problem-solver. This approach can help women make their presence known and demand a seat at the table.
Who are some famous women in technology?
Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, Hedy Lamar, Mary Wilkes, Adele Goldberg, Radia Perlman, Katherine Johnson, Karen Sparck-Jones, and Elizabeth Feinler are just some famous women who made incredible contributions to technology.
Why are women in technology so important?
Studies show that diversity is good for business. Putting women in leadership roles increases profits and ROI.
How do you include women in technology?
Understand what representation currently looks like at your company, use third-party recruiters to identify talent, write gender-neutral job descriptions, create an inclusive company culture, review your pay practices for equity, offer mentorship and advancement programs, include women on interviewing boards, and make sure that management and hiring practices are free from bias.
Are women underrepresented in technology?
Yes, despite the fact that the field has grown by 79% since 1990, women in technology continue to represent a disproportionately small number of workers.
What percentage of people in tech are women?
While women make up 47% of US workers, only 25% of employed women work in technology.