Further to National Women’s Day on the 8th March, RWA delves into statistics to find that women are a minority in modern day tech. Despite the fact that women have always been instrumental in technology development, according to a survey by PwC, only 15% of employees in STEM roles in the UK are women and only 3% of females say that a career in tech is their first choice.
So, do women now have a general lack of interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) positions? Is there a bias inhibiting women’s success in these roles? Are there cultural elements causing the decline?
The gender gap in technology and data science has grown significantly over the last two decades, raising global concern about the state of open-mindedness of the information and tech industry. However, O’Reilly’s ‘Women in Data’ report - a book of interviews with today’s most prominent women in computing and data science - says that the growing awareness is slowly bringing more women into the field.
Elsewhere. A survey by Bob Hayes of Business Over Broadway (B.O.B.) found that one in four data scientists are women, and they hold only 26% of all data professional positions. This tallies with RWA’s own experience in that women are less likely to apply for Software Engineering positions, favouring instead the likes of Software QA, data analytics, Product Management etc.
Although 57% of bachelor’s degrees are earned by women, only 12% of them are in computer science. From 1984 to today the amount of female computer science graduates dropped from 37% to 18%.
The disconnect between girls and STEM-related career paths happens during secondary school. There are a few reasons why this is the case:
Inherent Bias: The narrative from the early marketing campaigns is still used in many media forms today, usually defining a “techie” individual as a geeky computer-tinkering male.
No Early Exposure: The lack of introducing computing skills, such as coding or programming, at an early age can cause a disconnect between initial interest in STEM related topics and choosing other subjects for career paths. Within the Women In Data interviews, many of the interviewees, like Carla Gentry, Camille Fournier and Hannah Wallach, said they believe early exposure to STEM and computer-related skills will help close the tech gender gap.
Confidence Issues: Not having confidence in skills and potential success can cause individuals to put limitations on themselves. Harvard conducted a one-year study on the gender gap in its computer science program. They found that, even with computers now being standard in households, 67% of the women in the program said they had one or fewer years of programming experience, compared to 41% of their male counterparts who said the same. It also found that women with eight years of programming experience are as confident in their skills as their male peers with zero to one year of programming experience. Internalized stereotypes can cause women to feel they don’t have the “right” knowledge or skillset for success in the field.
Too, a lack of female role models and gender inequality must also be factors. The PwC survey provides evidence for this:
- only 22% of students could name a famous female working in technology, whereas 66% could name a famous male
- only 5% of leadership positions in the UK tech sector are held by women
- only 16% of females have had a career in technology suggested to them, compared to 33% of males
How does the UK compare with the other countries?
The 2018 Women in Tech Index, which analyses 41 countries in the EU and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), highlights gender disparity found in the technology sector.
Once women do break into the field, keeping them poses another problem.
Mentoring has had a large influence in closing the gender gap in tech and data science. In the Women In Data interviews, almost all of the interviewees mentioned a mentor that they relied on for encouragement to remain in the field, whether a supportive family member or a co-worker open to questions.
Successful tech start-ups have twice as many women in senior positions as unsuccessful ones. Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, reported that tech companies led by women have an average of a 35% higher return on capital than those led by men. He also referenced a study stating that tech companies with female founders perform 63% better than ones with founding teams completely composed of men. Too, that a mixed-gender team is linked to more success for a company.
Ultimately, this is one of several compelling reasons why we need more women in computing and data science - to bring their skills and perspectives to the table for better performance overall. In ‘Women in IT: The Facts’, the NCWIT reported that teams with equal numbers of men and women are more likely to experiment, be creative, share knowledge and finish tasks than teams of unequal genders.