It’s no secret that there is a growing need for tech professionals in the modern job market. One frequently cited White House statistic claims that, if current trends continue, there will be 1.4 million computer science-related jobs available by 2020 and only 400,000 computer science graduates with the skills needed for them. This means that only 29 percent of openings will be filled. More and more tech companies are realizing that there is a pool of potential talent that has been largely untapped in recent years: women.
The Current State of Women in Technology
Though Silicon Valley has never been known for gender diversity, titans like Intel, Google and Microsoft have released numbers that give a stark look at how disproportionate the workforce has become. For example, Intel’s team of more than 50,000 was just 24 percent female in 2014. Google also revealed during the same year that only 30 percent of its workers were female, while Yahoo employs 37 percent women and Facebook employs 31 percent. Even fewer women work in programming and technical jobs. Google ranked among the highest for this statistic, with 17 percent of its technical staff made up of women. The National Center for Women & Information Technology reports that only 26 percent of the 2014 computing workforce was made up of women.
One of the statistics that makes these numbers so disproportionate is that women are the lead adopters of technology in Western countries. According to research by Intel’s Genevieve Bell, women in these countries use the Internet 17 percent more than their male counterparts. They are also the majority of owners of tech devices. Meanwhile, just 20 percent of software developers are women — a statistic that makes little sense given this context.
However, it’s important to note that it wasn’t always this way. In years past, women pioneered computer programming — a fact that most people don’t know. From Ada Lovelace to the women of EINAC, the tech field as we know it today has been shaped by women for decades and even centuries. As an NPR article points out, “Every time you write on a computer, play a music file or add up a number with your phone’s calculator, you are using tools that might not exist without the work of these women.” But what caused this crucial lack of women in the tech field, and what is being done to address it?
Closing the Gap
As more data about the lack of diversity is released, a movement to close the gender gap in the tech world has begun. It is gaining ground quickly — some are even calling it a computer revolution. According to a Wired article, the primary goal is to bring more diversity into the workforce and improve the economics of hiring in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs. As Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and other tech companies disclose diversity statistics, the problem has come to the forefront of mainstream culture. These statistics show that, as expected, most tech workers inside these companies are white men. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
One of the reasons for the move toward diversity is that it’s better for companies to have women on their teams. Studies show that hiring women in IT roles is beneficial to businesses. Tech companies with women in leadership positions have a 34 percent higher return on investment than their counterparts. This is why it is important to encourage talented people to join the tech workforce. When an entire demographic is largely eliminated from the candidacy pool, tech companies limit their appeal to consumers. If technology isn’t shaped by people with diverse views — at the coding level and beyond — products are limited in scope and innovation is restricted. As documentary filmmaker Robin Hauser Reynolds puts it, “The idea is that when you don’t have any diversity, you end up creating products that serve the population that’s most like you.”
Researchers are working to understand the factors that deter women from entering the tech workforce, and findings suggest that it is a cultural issue. A study conducted by IT Manager Daily and Girl Scouts of America indicates that, during adolescence, 35 percent of STEM interest comes from girls. Several years later, only 18 percent of students pursuing tech degrees are women. This means that somewhere along the way, women are changing their minds about careers in technology. The study suggests that our culture steers girls and women to work in less technical fields. To address this, gender stereotypes must be taken out of the equation and all people — both men and women — should be encouraged to pursue careers in the tech field.
Countless initiatives have sprung up in recent years that encourage girls and women to join the tech field. One example is Girl Develop It, a nonprofit organization founded in 2012 that provides affordable opportunities for women to learn about software development. Similarly, university campuses across the country are hosting networking events for women interested in STEM careers. Big tech companies like Microsoft are stepping up as well. In Bridging the Gap: Growing the Next Generation of Women in Computing, the company outlines more than 10 initiatives for “bridging the gender gap through diversity and creativity.” Efforts like these are designed for women and girls of all ages and from all socioeconomic backgrounds.
Another way that the tech industry is addressing the need for diversity in the workforce is through the creation of coding bootcamps. These intensive, full-time programs teach popular coding languages to talented individuals, whether they have a tech background or not. More accessible than four-year degree programs, coding bootcamps are uniquely positioned to train individuals and funnel them into the job market quickly. Graduates are qualified for the coding and software development positions that are in highest demand. The aim of such bootcamps is to increase access to tech skills for traditionally underrepresented demographics, specifically women and minorities. The two-fold benefit of these programs is that they add professionals to the tech workforce quickly while providing the ideal setting for women to jumpstart the coding and software development careers they want. Opportunities like these make a big difference in how women approach technical careers and will hopefully increase the number of women in the development workplace by encouraging them to excel. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, says it well: “It’s time to cheer on women and girls who want to sit at the table.”