August 10, 2020 / Hiring

The Gender Gap in the Tech Industry

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The gender gap is a well known issue in the tech industry, which businesses are continuing to strive for a more diverse workforce. We've has a look at how far we've come in closing the gender gap in the tech industry since 2017

Looking for Change

Taking a look back shows us that the number of female IT tech professionals in the UK is on the rise and has risen from 14.3% to 17% between 2014 and 2019. Although this is a step in the right direction, we still have a long way to go to reduce the gender gap in tech. But, the tech industry is growing32% faster than the overall economy, so respectively the percentage of women in tech has a great window of opportunity to be improved.

In the past few years, the percentage of STEM graduates at 24.24% is almost as high as the percentage of women in tech at 24.61%. This could mean positive progress as women are entering the tech industry from education and not being stunted by negative attitudes towards women in tech.

Previously we discussed the cultural myth that ‘women can’t code’, which is used as a reason or excuse as to why the figures of women in tech are so small. Historically, people believed that men’s brains were superior and innately more mathematical than women’s and that they weren’t interested in code. This is peculiar, considering that figures of women in tech were once much higher than today and during WW2 hundreds of women were hired to solve calculations. Additionally, in a 2019 survey, HP found that 70% of young women showed interest in jobs in the tech sector and that 45% of those already educated or in other roles would retrain into a technical role. So, it seems that women want to work in tech, but are they held back by other constraining factors?

Global temperate of women in tech

Which countries have managed to make a positive change to its gender diversity? The US is slowly catching up with other countries concerning the percentage of women in the tech industry, but globally the average percentage of women in tech jobs is still the minority. We've had a look to see what others around the world have been doing to improve gender diversity.

Europe

In 2018 Eastern European countries, such as Bulgaria and Romania, continue to have some of the highest percentages of women in tech. Bulgaria had a trailblazing 30% of women in tech in 2018. This can be explained by the legacy that communism left behind. The communist state-required everyone to have a job, even when caring for children. Many young women saw the financial security that working in tech could provide, so chose to study STEM subjects over humanities. This was also a safer option in a communist state, where freedom of expression was risky and studying humanities encouraged such freedom.

Scotland has taken action to improve its gender diversity in STEM by encouraging more women into STEM at all levels. Its efforts included tackling inequalities in the workplace for women in STEM, tackling the gender pay gap as well as ensuring the provision of more high quality, affordable, and accessible childcare. The focus on addressing the lack of women in STEM has yielded positive results and sets an example for others to follow. Only by allocating focus and attention to this problem will we see notable change.

The UK, as a whole, continues to lag behind Eastern Europe’s progress in improving gender diversity. Figures of women in tech remain low, coming in at an average of 16% in 2018. To combat this they launched the Tech Talent Charter (TTC) in 2018, which is committed to taking action to improve gender diversity in the workforce, inclusive of the recruitment processes in tech.

Other countries in Europe don’t appear to be showing initiative to get women into STEM. The 2018 women in STEM index showed that many European countries still had less than 15% of women in the tech workforce with figures as low as 9% in Turkey and the Slovak Republic.

Russia is still storming ahead in terms of gender diversity, proving that the gender gap is affected by a pipeline problem. Russia’s prevalence of female role models in tech and positive attitudes towards gender diversity both in education and the workplace mean that the gender gap is merely an issue. Our previous blog post mentioned that 41% of Russia’s scientific researchers are female, compared to the global average of 19%. Today, statistics show that figure is still at a strong 40% but encouragingly, the global average now stands at 28.8%.

Australia

Australia’s proportion of women in IT hasn’t seen much change and remains at just under a third of the IT workforce.

This lack of change has encouraged some companies to take action to attract more women to its workforce as they take note of figures showing that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to financially outperform their counterparts. EY have shifted its working practices to allow the employee to choose a formal or informal flexible working arrangement, depending on the needs of the employee. This is attracting women who require flexibility in their job to integrate it with their home lives.

Australian Government released an in-depth report documenting how they plan to increase the representation of women in STEM, as they are still widely underrepresented. One figure they released showed that, though girls make up 50% of year 12 Science subjects, only 26.3% are enrolled in courses for Information and Communication Technology and Design and Technology. This is 13.1% less than the number of boys enrolling onto these courses. Australian Government are taking this issue more seriously than ever before and allocating over $1 billion into closing the gender gap in STEM. With continued effort, Australia hopes to soon see significant improvements to its gender diversity figures.

Africa

In Africa, the percentage of women working in science and engineering is below 20%. With the industry being relatively new, the African tech industry had the opportunity to hit the ground running by ensuring gender diversity was tended to before becoming an issue.

2018 statistics show that this opportunity was missed in South Africa where now only 23% of women are working in IT jobs. Technology and sourcing director, Simone Dickson, says this is a pipeline problem and needs to be targeted at an education level. She goes on to say that gender parity in Africa needs more attention in order to identify ways of change.

The numbers of women in STEM subjects in Africa at school level are still scarce. However, this coupled with the low numbers of women in STEM jobs could be the reason behind national initiatives by the African Union to invest in STEM education in schools to improve the gender parity.

Opening up the economy to a growing tech industry by getting more women into the tech and science industry is important because it has the potential to contribute to African development, by tackling national problems such as unemployment, health and, poverty.

Latin America

Software development remains on track to be Latin Americas fastest-growing career and will see a demand for 1.2 million professionals by 2025. With almost 50% of women being unemployed in Latin America, the emerging tech sector is a great opportunity to get women into the workforce.

Figures show alarmingly low ratios of women working in the Latin American tech sector with less than 10% of software developers being female. Consequently, in recent years there has been emerging initiatives to improve this.

In the past 5 years, a Latin American social enterprise has emerged to give young women fast track coding courses. The social enterprise, Laboratoria, started in Peru and has been expanding throughout South America since its founding. Other efforts to improve the gender parity include webinars from Venezuela and technology clubs in Costa Rica.

Asia

Japan is a giant tech industry that not only has a notable lack of women working within it, but also a comparatively large pay gap to other countries. Women are discredited for taking maternity leave from their jobs, making them uncomfortable in the workplace and making them more likely to quit. These factors contribute to the glass or “steel” ceiling that is making is so difficult for women to work in the tech industry, even as other countries tackle gender diversity. Gender roles remain this way in many other Asian countries with women potential being limited by very traditional cultural norms.

Countries like Thailand and the Philippines are heading in a very different trajectory. Its positive attitudes towards women in the workforce and education have meant that women feel more confident to succeed professionally, producing a more gender diverse world of tech.

In terms of education statistics for women in tech in Asia, there has been no significant data released since our previous gender blog. There are, however, plans to release up to date STEM education stats on women in 2020.

Companies making inroads to equality

Good news for businesses who are already on its way to reaching gender diversity. A report published in August 2019 found a trend that gender-diverse companies were outperforming its less diverse competition. Investment Bank Company Morgan Stanley highlighted that this was due to higher stock prices for the diverse companies.

However, Booking.com recently researched opinions on efforts to improve gender diversity. Only 54% of women globally felt like the tech industry was prioritising gender diversity. Booking.com said that the tech industry needs to make gender diversity more of a priority if they are going to maintain a representative and skilled workforce.

Booking.com are taking note of its research and continuing its efforts to close the gender parity in tech within its business. Tactics used to do this included offering scholarship opportunities for women in tech by linking up with universities. They also have an awards ceremony to recognise female tech talent all over the world. This gives a chance for women to be recognised as role models as research by PWC found that many participants couldn’t name a female role model in tech. This problem is influenced by the idea of the ‘male tech genius’, focusing on male tech entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

Amazon is keeping gender in diversity at the forefront of its objectives by offering scholarships and apprenticeships for women to get into tech. They're also aiming to hire more employees who value diversity to improve its inclusive culture by introducing global candidate inclusive interview questions.

Vodafone has the ambition of being the best employer for women by 2025. To take steps in this direction they have a network for ‘Women in Technology’ where women can support each other in their roles. The network has over 1300 members and hosts quarterly webinars. They also provide flexibility and support for working parents and they’re not the only ones that are great for working mums in 2019. Accenture and Sky remain in the top companies for mums working in tech.

Ethnic minorities in tech

Today, women from minority groups are still being underrepresented in the tech sector. However, it’s great to see steps being taken to change this in education. We can see that female students are starting to be encouraged to take computer science courses as the number of female students taking the AP CSP (Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles) exam in New York increased from 13,328 to 31,458 in 3 years. This is a whopping 136% increase between 2016 and 2019! This could be the start of a change to gender diversity, beginning to solve any pipeline problems that deterred women away from STEM.

Even better news for the AP CSP course, we are seeing a rise of over 100% in the number of black/African American and Hispanic/ Latino female representation on this course. This is great progress from 2017 where these minority groups were staggeringly underrepresented in tech. This however is still only the start of making the tech sector not only more gender diverse, but more diverse in female ethnic minorities.

Our previous article mentioned how tech was algorithmically biased against recognising black faces. It has since been found that this is an issue faced by Transport Security Administration where security systems are unjustly setting off false alarms for popular hairstyles amongst black women, such as afros. These alarm triggers mean that these women are then subjected to further, seemingly unnecessary security checks. With the rise of ethnic minority women going into tech, it’s important to keep them on the career path so software development teams stay diverse to overcome software issues such as setting off false alarms.

Female ethnic diversity in the workplace is still problematic in the tech industry, although there has been some progress in BAME leadership (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic), which is being recognised publicly to champion this. In our previous blog post, we shared that in 2015, of all ethnic minorities in the US, Asian women are most likely to be represented in tech, and Hispanic women are the least likely. Since 2015, additional reports have supported this but they are few and far between. The issue here is that research findings tend to generalise ‘women in the tech industry’ into one category, rather than into subcategories such as ethnic minorities. Future research should focus on looking to find out the statistics on female ethnic minorities in the tech sector to get a better understanding of whether diversity it is improving. This would be beneficial because not only does gender diversity increase performance, so does ethnic diversity.

Equality teething problems

Research shows that unconscious bias is likely to be a factor limiting the potential of women getting into tech or climbing the ladder in the field. Unconscious bias against women can exist for several reasons, one being that women’s brains aren’t as mathematical as men.

A study conducted on stereotype threat provided interesting results into the belief that women's brains weren't as innately mathematical and consequently weren't as 'techie'. The results of this study showed that when a person perceives themselves to be a stereotype, they'll subconsciously mimic the attributes associated with that stereotype. The study tested Asian-American women in mathematics. The women scored better when they were reminded of being Asian and worse when they were reminded of being female. This is because culturally high math ability is associated with being Asian and low math ability associated with being female.

Culture has an impact on the actual ability and drive for women to work on developing their tech skills, whether subconscious or known to the person. For example, many women don't go into tech because they perceive it to be a man's job that they might not be able to live up to. Changing these attitudes long term is one of the steps we need to continue doing to close the gender gap, rather than viewing the task of closing the gender gap as a tick box exercise that needs completing and archiving.

Conclusion

The gender disparity still has a long way to go but it’s great that we are starting to see attention being given to this issue. After all, in 2018 over a third of people surveyed in Europe said they changed their behaviour in the workplace as a result of increased focus on diversity and inclusion. This comes at a much needed time when just over a third of women in the UKtech sector said the lack of female representation in the industry made them uncomfortable at the start of their careers.

Overall, we are pleased with the small changes we have found over the past few years and look forward to seeing more positive change to the gender gap in the tech industry.

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Alex Adams
Marketing Executive

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