While the technology field used to be a boy’s club, more women have joined the field in the last decade than ever before. This would normally be news one should celebrate, but sadly, issues have occurred. Causing the ladies that enter the industry to be driven out.
A study was conducted by the University of Tennessee Professor of Information Sciences, Vandana Singh, and her colleagues to check into why women are being driven out or if they even are at all.
Singh stated that by 2029 there will be around 3.6 million computing jobs in the United States alone but there will only be enough college graduates with computing degrees to fill around 24% of these jobs. This is one of the main reasons the U.S. has been pushing a lot of resources into improving gender representation in the tech industry for a long time.
In spite of the heavy resources poured into this area, nothing has improved at the level one would expect. They have actually remained stagnant and all initiatives have failed. What is so odd is that 57% of the workforce in the United States is made up of women.
However, in spite of being 57% of the nation’s workforce, only 27% of women work in the tech industry. Out of this 27% though, roughly 50% are likely to quit before they reach the age of 35!!
If that does not blow your mind, you should also know around 56% of women quit the tech industry by mid-career.
Why Are Women Quitting Or Being Driven Out Of The Tech Industry?
One has to wonder…why are women being driven out or quitting the tech industry like this? That is exactly what Singh and her team decided to look into.
Singh herself might be a professor in the information science territory but she also studied gender and information technology. Along with women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), online communities, and open-source software.
This made her perfect to look into such an issue as someone who knows the gender territory but also due to the fact that she’s technically in the tech industry herself.
Her team found that retention in tech for women can first be improved by women connecting with online or physical spaces that support women. Of course, there are a lot of challenges in any industry but the tech field can have quite a lot of challenges one may not experience elsewhere.
One of the biggest issues for women in tech is that the gender pay gap is massive. Women do not always get the same opportunities as men either. Around 18% of the Chief Information Officers or Chief Technology Officers are women, for example. Plus, women receive a lot of unfair treatment.
Singh and her team focused on a lot of factors but took a particular interest in the treatment women receive in the workplace, and if support systems for women can truly help them succeed in spite of being mistreated.
Women In Tech
One key area of focus for the team was open-source software communities, as they offer an extreme example of gender inequality. On top of this, roughly 70% of all the software that supports technology infrastructure is open source.
This basically means that the open-source tech field will be a major area both now and in the future for the tech workforce. However, around 9.8% of the people who are involved in open-source projects are women.
One of the big issues women experience in the tech industry is both minor and severe harassment. Along with sexism, discrimination, and misogyny all the way to explicit death threats! On top of this, their expertise is challenged at a much higher rate than that of men.
Moreover, women in this field face constant harassment and deal with what is known as “normalized abuse.” This is where one might hear the “boys will be boys” mentality utilized. Meaning, men are abusing their female co-workers and are able to get away with it because the culture of the industry has allowed that abuse to become accepted or commonplace.
Women are often feeling isolated in this field because they are surrounded by men, due to the lack of females in the industry overall. Especially at a specific company.
All of this can result in negative experiences and even harm. In fact, individual harm that a woman faces can then lead to incidental harm to other women. Thus, discouraging them from participating in the field and then resulting in a collective problem where fewer women get into the field or stay.
The Culture Of The Industry
You’ve likely seen how the media has reported the problem of toxic “tech-bro” culture. We’re constantly seeing or hearing about abusive behavior where high-profile leaders or even the owner of a company is exposed for how they treated female co-workers/employees.
Major software engineer and the creator & lead developer of Linux Kernel, Linus Torvalds, recently had to step down from the company. As several toxic and abusive emails to other developers were exposed by the media. This only resulted in more questions being asked about the company overall and its abusive behavior.
Of course, Linus is not alone. Software Activist Richard Stallman (who you likely know from his initials RMS) had to recently resign from the Free Software Foundation and his role at MIT after his views on pedophilia got out. On top of quite a few sexual harassment cases from students and faculty at MIT for over 30 years.
Clearly, this has a huge impact on the field. It should not shock anyone why women are leaving it or not wanting to be involved in the first place.
Of course, this is not even addressing the video game industry where major companies like Activision Blizzard, Riot Games, & Ubisoft had several cases of sexual misconduct involving major developers. Both Twitch & Facebook Gaming even had to recently address sexual misconduct surrounding streamers on their respective platforms.
Support Systems Women Can Utilize
In their research, Singh and the UT researchers found that support systems for women in tech were incredibly useful. Online spaces provided a lot of help in the form of social, emotional, technical, and networking support.
The research found that the key in all of this was that these online spaces for women to use were readily accessible through websites of open-source software organizations. The spaces help because they offer a sense of community for women actively working in the industry.
A few examples of spaces women frequent are Fedora Women & Debian Women. If a woman faces discrimination or a sexual misconduct issue, these spaces are available for them to reach out to and get both emotional and social support.
These spaces work as somewhat of a guide where women in the field mentor and help each other navigate through any toxicity in the industry, then find avenues to advocate for gender equality.
Women also did quite well when supported by community guidelines, like codes of conduct for online spaces. In addition to this, in-person events and professional organizations played a big role. Codes of Conduct actually became an advocacy tool for women seeking equal treatment through online software communities.
It is also massive to have a mentor supporting you. As they can help you network in their communities and act as role models women can look to. Because seeing them succeed shows you it is possible.
Retention issues in the tech field can be solved, according to Professor Singh and her colleagues, by just tackling the gender disparities within the tech industry. Using online and physical spaces that focus on women, policies, and practices that ensure equal treatment of women. Along with serving to give them female mentors and role models.