The Gender Gap

Despite all the initiatives and grand plans of recent years, the number of women in tech is falling.

The global percentage of women working in technology-related professions is actually lower today than it was two years ago. It’s quite disappointing considering how much attention has been given to this topic, the number of international organizations set up to tackle it, and the vocal commitments of business leaders. A running theme within these initiatives has been a call to triple the number of women in computing by 2025. It’s not looking likely without a serious shift.

According to a recently published study by the Accenture, a consulting firm, and Girls Who Code, a tech non-profit, it appears the growing focus on coding among young people has popularized computer science among boys, but it hasn’t done so with girls.

The study advised there should be programs and curriculum specifically designed for girls, therefore addressing the sociological reasons that discourage them from taking on programming and technological skills.

The report concluded that, without a broad and sustainable strategy to stimulate girls’ interest in computing from the middle school level through till college, the amount of women in computing would fall from 24 percent today to 22 percent in 2025.

This could have a serious economic impact, due to the fact that the economies of developed nations actually need more programmers than their universities can actually supply. For example, in the United States in 2015, there were 500,000 new computing jobs to be filled but fewer than 40,000 graduates of both genders. If there were gender equity in the sector, there could have been up to 30,000 more female graduates in computer and tech sciences.

Looking through this study, and scientific research on this matter, women are clearly not predisposed to avoid jobs in the sector. It all seems to boil down to the stubbornness of social attitudes which set stereotypical roles for the sexes from an early age and the now entrenched biased behaviors of men in tech. Not only are these issues impeding gender-bridging programs, but they’re even enabling the gender gap to gain more ground all over the world.

It is also worth clarifying that there are actually three interrelated gaps that have emerged over the past three decades. One is in the total numbers of females in tech compared to males, another is a salary gap between males and females holding the same jobs in tech, and the third is the investment gap whereby a lower percentage of female entrepreneurs succeed in obtaining funding compared to their male counter parts who launch startups.

At this year’s World Economic Forum, there was a discussion of how the gender gap coupled with the evolution of the world economy could compound the negative effects facing women in the workforce.

The so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution characterized by the rise of automation and artificial intelligence will cause certain jobs to disappear; unfortunately these are the jobs favored by women. Safer jobs would be in management, computer and math, and architecture and engineering all of which have low female participation with little expectation of increases in the coming years.

Looking at some the sub-sectors of tech, like fintech, where women are making their presence more strongly felt, there still needs to be a change in attitudes. An example is Marta Krupinska, a prominent European fintech entrepreneur. She said she regularly gets questions at startup events and parties if she is “somebody’s wife or somebody’s secretary.” Krupinska’s company, Azimo, is also part of a study by International Finance Corporation into obstacles facing female-led fintech startups. It shows that they are unable to attract capital due to the fact that most venture capitalists are male, and have tended to invest in male-owned businesses. That is a whole other ‘gap’ story.

So, tech’s gender problem is as bad as it has ever been. The most infuriating thing is that too many young women are still shunning opportunities in S.T.E.M (Science, technology, Engineering and Math) because they simply don’t believe it’s their domain.

The socio-psychological conditioning element is far too strong. This has to change. We must insist that men change their thinking and practices to facilitate this required change. When fathers and brothers in households look at their daughters and sisters as future technology workers, enabling them to interact with technology and to attend such activities, buying them high-tech toys, encouraging them to study technical subjects at school and university; accepting that they will work in offices or locations where there is currently a majority of male tech workers; maybe then we will start to see a real change, perhaps in 15 to 20 years. The road towards gender equality in tech will be a long one.