In 2014, many of the world’s leading high tech companies disclosed their employment data. In virtually every case, the discouraging results showed a significant gender imbalance. Media coverage of this information was extensive, and the industry overall was chastised for its poor track record. We’d like to share a different perspective.
First, we’d like to commend the high tech companies who published their employment information, knowing that reaction would not be positive. (To those high tech companies who refused to follow suit, recognize that in the absence of real data the market has assumed the worst). We encourage the leading companies of other industries to adopt a policy of complete transparency when it comes to employment data.
We must also recognize why the market response was so negative. The high tech industry is viewed as one of the World’s most forward-thinking and innovative. Leading companies are constantly reinventing themselves to keep pace with technological advancement. The average age of the workforce is younger than for most industries. And, the industry boasts some high profile appointments of women as CEOs. The combination of these factors would indicate that this industry would be most inclusive of women and minorities. However, the results tell a different story. Women are severely underrepresented in all aspects of the high tech industry, especially in technology positions. Let’s summarize the results:
Percentage of Women in Total Employee Population
When isolating technical positions, the percentage of women is significantly smaller.
Percentage of Women in Technical Positions
There have been many attempts to explain the low rate of women in technical positions as the result of the limited number of women who pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (DOL/BLS) reports that 26% of computer science professionals in the U.S. are women. Of course, a review of the table above shows that some industry leaders even fall below that number. To make matters worse, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that the number of undergraduate degrees in computer science going to women is declining. While 37% of those receiving computer science degrees in 1985 were women, the number dropped to only 12% in 2012.
The explanation also fails to address the difference between sourcing women with needed technical skills, and retaining those women. According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, more than half of women with technical jobs leave their work midway through their careers, double the turnover rate for men. This cannot be explained away by pointing to the number of women who leave the workplace to raise a family, as the percentage is significantly greater than for other industries.
Women who have left their tech career cite culture as the primary reason for the career change. While few indicate that they had experienced the blatant hostility and discrimination of years past, many speak of the subtle ways in which they felt isolated, excluded, and forced to change their behavior to fit into a primarily male culture.
Another concern leading to career change is the lack of opportunity for advancement. With a few exceptions, executive leadership is dominated by white and Asian males. The average ratio of male to female executives (director level and above) is 3.5 to 1.
The high tech industry runs on innovation. If the number one differentiator is the ability of its workforce to generate new ideas and rapidly turn those ideas into commercially viable products, it cannot afford to ignore half of its potential talent base. To close the gender gap in high tech, companies must approach the problem from all directions: education, opportunities for advancement, work culture, and policies that inadvertently make the workplace less attractive to women. Some companies are applying their “innovation DNA” to this challenge. In tomorrow’s blog, we will highlight these efforts, discussing what’s working, what’s not, and why.
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