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Women in Tech: Analyzing the Current Climate for Women in the Technology Sector

Human Resources
Article
12/03/2018

The tech sector isn’t done booming. In 2018, the purchase of technology, software, hardware, and services was expected to grow by 4 percent, making technology a $3 trillion industry.

Beyond technological advancements, new levels of convenience, and automation, there’s one more thing often associated with the tech industry: a lack of diversity. The tech sector is often criticized for its lack of dissimilarity when it comes to gender. In 2017 more than 3 in 4 tech jobs were held by men.

So what exactly is it like for women working in the tech industry? To find out, we surveyed 200 women in various tech jobs across the country. We asked them how happy they were with their jobs, the biases and challenges they faced, and how discrimination affected their career choices — in the Bay Area and beyond. Read on as we explore their responses and uncover the realities of being a woman in the tech industry.

Finding their footing

In most cases, efforts to keep females from getting too involved with technology can happen as young as grade school. The subconscious effort to steer females away from tinkering with technology can even start with the toys they play with. As a result of the subsequent lack of interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) activities, the gender gap in the tech sector can start at a very young age for most women.

Still, despite the alarmingly slim number of outlets for girls to pursue their interests in STEM, 31 percent of women working in the tech industry said they followed their passion as a result of their love for computers and technology. Nearly 1 in 4 said they got started in tech because they found problem-solving enjoyable (or challenging), and 12 percent said they did it for the pay.

Some jobs in the tech sphere earn $96,000 or more overall. In Silicon Valley, however, the median pay is well above the average, easily surpassing six figures in most cases. This could be a part of the reason why women working in tech in the Bay Area are three times more likely to suggest they picked their profession for the paycheck. Discrimination against women in technology isn’t exclusive to big-name companies like Google or Facebook, but it can certainly happen there too.

What gender bias looks like

No matter how passionate they are about technology, or how much they value the challenges of their careers, a majority of women surveyed working in the tech sector experience bias by their co-workers, organization, and even customers.

More than 7 million men and women work in the tech industry, but not all of them work at high-profile companies like Apple or Uber. In some cases, working outside of Silicon Valley could be the key to a more equitable environment for women. While 74 percent of women working in tech in the Bay Area reported being underestimated or not taken seriously by their peers, the number drops to 64 percent of women in tech companies elsewhere.

More women in the Bay Area also said they saw female co-workers being passed over for promotions, were more likely to be solicited to perform nontechnical tasks, and were more likely to have answers to their technical questions oversimplified.

Responding to discrimination

We asked 200 women in tech how they responded to discrimination in their industry.

More than half of women surveyed working in tech in the Bay Area considered switching jobs because of the day-to-day discrimination from their male colleagues. Nearly 1 in 3 said they thought about changing their careers completely. Despite their concerns, only 20 percent of women ever reported a male colleague to HR for gender bias or discrimination.

Recognizing discrimination in the workplace can be easier said than done. Proper training from a well-equipped HR team is important to help managers and employees recognize the signs of discrimination or harassment, and how to properly respond to them. That training is also mandatory in certain states across the country, including California. This need for greater awareness is highlighted by the drastic measures some women have been willing to consider as a result of regular bias from their male co-workers.

Rethink the hiring process

Some experts suggest the key to unlocking higher levels of corporate diversity is hiring. By committing to more diverse interview panels or changing the way companies approach new talent and screening processes, tech industry firms may begin to see changes in the diversity of their workforces.

According to women working in the Bay Area, only 1 percent described being interviewed exclusively by women. While a majority (55 percent) of women in the Bay Area were interviewed by people of both genders, 44 percent were only interviewed by men. In Silicon Valley, 76 percent of the tech industry is made up of men.

Companies outside the Bay Area may have a stronger sense of diversity in hiring. A sole female-led interview occurred for 21 percent of women working outside of the Bay Area.

The trickle-down effect

When you think of CEOs in the tech industry, a few names like Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, or Elon Musk may spring to mind. While there is a certain level of diversity among the most powerful and influential CEOs in control of Silicon Valley, a vast majority have historically had at least one thing in common: they have been men. Still, there’s a growing population of high-profile (and high-performing) women in tech right now who are poised to be the faces of the next generation of CEOs.

In the Bay Area, 90 percent of tech executives were men. This was almost the same across the rest of the country, where 89 percent of tech executives were also men.

This lack of diversity may spread to other levels of the leadership team as well. Eighty-three percent of managerial positions in Bay-Area tech firms were comprised of men compared to 67 percent elsewhere in the U.S.

Someone to look up to

No matter what you’re passionate about or the jobs you decide to pursue, having a mentor can be a driving force towards success. Someone who inspires, motivates, and even pushes you to do your best work can give you the courage to step out of your bubble when the time is right and take risks that propel your career to new heights.

In the tech industry, women don’t always have the luxury of finding other women to look up to as mentors, however. In the Bay Area, while 47 percent of women said they didn’t have a mentor at all, only 29 percent said their mentor was a woman. At most, 36 percent of women with master’s degrees working in the tech sector had a female mentor. This percentage only fell among women with less (or no) college education.

Cost of doing business

For women living outside the Bay Area who may feel envious of their peers making almost double the salary, take a moment and relax. Because inflation continues to rise in the San Francisco area, many people are fleeing the high cost of living for better economic situations. Between 2016 and 2017, the population in San Francisco experienced a net decrease of almost 24,000 residents.

The impetus behind a woman’s desire to enter tech could impact how much money she earns. Those who wanted to work in tech for the money also earned the most on average. With $10,000 more per year than those who entered the field because of a love of computers and technology, women who did it for the pay still earned more than people who took tech jobs for job stability or as a result of their degrees.

Switching things up

Women working in a department where less than 50 percent of their colleagues were women were more likely to consider switching jobs based on day-to-day interactions with male colleagues. Thirty-five percent considered finding a new job, and 24 percent even pondered a complete career shift. Increasing the number of female workers didn’t do much to deter contemplating a job change, though. Even in departments where 50 percent or more of the individuals were women, 30 percent reflected about a new job due to their daily dealings with men.

As more female leaders in tech, like YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki, place a focus on empowering and hiring women in tech (YouTube’s percentage of female employees has increased from 24 percent to 30 percent since she was hired in 2014), women may increasingly consider jobs that meet their professional desires, not as a means to escape their male counterparts.

Standing up for your passion

Plenty of women working in technology chose their career path because they love the work they do. From software developers to hardware engineers (and everything in between), earning a high-paying salary wasn’t often at the top of their consideration. Still, despite their passion for the work, many women also experienced workplace discrimination and often didn’t report those violations to HR.

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Methodology

We collected responses from 200 women working in the tech industry via an online survey. 37.5% of participants were located in the Bay Area, and 62.5% percent were located in other parts of the U.S. Forty-nine percent of participants worked at a company with less than 1,000 employees, 38 percent worked at a company with more than 1,000 employees, and 14 percent were self-employed. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 80 with a mean of 33.6 and a standard deviation of 9.7. Demographic groups with less than 20 participants were excluded from individual analysis. We weighted the data to the 2016 U.S. census for gender and age.

The data we are presenting rely on self-reporting. There are many issues with self-reported data. These issues include but are not limited to the following: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration. These estimates are based on our survey, which was comprised of only women. No statistical testing was performed, so the claims listed above are based on means alone. As such, this content is purely exploratory, and future research should approach this topic more rigorously.

Sources

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