The tech industry is often associated with startup offices packed with young men in their twenties or thirties working long hours on the next Facebook or Google. Unfortunately, this perception is not necessarily misleading. A PWC research reveals that only 3% of the female students would consider a career in tech as their first choice. Why? A quarter of the participants stated that the industry is too male dominated. Assuming that the chances of getting a high paying job in a male dominated industry are low, female students prefer fields of study other than Computer Science.
20 years ago, the picture was different. In 1985, the percentage of female graduates who received a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science was 37% compared to just 17% in 2014. At the same time, the number of jobs in the tech industry almost doubled.
Let’s take a look at the numbers:
Besides the big difference in the percentage of female graduates receiving a degree in Computer Science, is there any other driver behind the numbers above? May the hiring practices widen the gap?
It seems so. Statistical data gathered by the CSR recruitment platform Transformify reveals that the hiring managers are 30% more likely to prefer male candidates for tech roles to equally skilled or higher skilled female candidates. The most common reason? An all-male team culture that could make it hard for a woman to fit in. Add to this that most tech companies are looking for young employees in their late 20s or early 30s who are likely to have children in the near future and you already see the big picture from a completely different angle.
Training a new employee and getting her/him up to speed takes 3 to 6 months on average. Diversifying an all-male team and changing the culture accordingly may take years. The prejudices that women are less competent than men in tech and math tend to make their way into the decision making and hiring processes, too.
Given all of the above, it is not surprising that many young fast-growing organizations prefer to leave the situation as it is. The cost and the associated risks are perceived as too high and not necessarily justifiable.
The change is driven by established and very young businesses. The former, including Google who hired a female CFO, can afford to slowly diversify their workforce and change the corporate culture to accommodate gender equality. The latter, including tech startups and small local businesses, establish their culture around diversity and gender equality since the very beginning. There are many advantages in doing so as they tap into a completely different talent pool, often overlooked by the rest. The war for technical talent is real and a startup no one has heard of is very unlikely to attract the top tech talent needed to succeed if they ‘’fish’’ in the same talent pool as the ‘’big fish’’.
Many senior executives, including the CEO of General Motors, Mary Barra, urge teachers and parents to encourage girls to pursue a degree in Computer Science and career in tech. However, much more than that is needed to change the perception of the society that women are less competent in math and tech. This prejudice reportedly resulted in women receiving lower salary offers than men for the same job at the same company 63 percent of the time. About 74 percent of young girls express interest in STEM fields and computer science, but only 17% received a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science in 2014. (Source: Observer). How can teachers and parents persuade them to pursue a degree in a STEM field, knowing that they are very likely to be paid less than their male colleagues?
Minorities and people with disabilities are not in a better position. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Hispanic, Asian, Black and African American women are the most under-represented groups.
The percentage of people diagnosed with autism, bi polar depression, and anxiety disorder is rising, but there are very few roles available for them. Many are very good at math, design, or arts, but due to their special needs, it is really hard to get a job and stay at a job. Again, it is either very large organisations like Microsoft, or very small local businesses that create jobs for people in a disadvantaged position. Their special needs require flexible working hours, work from home arrangements, accessible offices, and minimal exposure to stressful situations at work. Still, the society will benefit a lot from including them into the workforce. Employing a person in a disadvantaged position improves not only her/his quality of life, but also the quality of life of their families and caregivers.
Recently, tech companies have been founded by people on the autism spectrum ( Platinum Bay Technologies) or people with disabilities. Instead of giving up after searching for a job for years, they had the courage to start a business of their own.
Equality in the tech industry is still a mirage, but there is a clear positive trend driven by the very large or very young organizations.
Lilia Stoyanov is the CEO of Transformify, a CSR recruitment platform backed by Virgin, ranking in Startups 100 Index, and a member of the Digital Coalition of the European Commission.