An Unbalanced Industry: How Do We Bridge The Gender Gap In Tech?

How to bridge the gender gap in the tech industry

Christina Szoke and Patricia Klauer of Fathym.

The lack of diversity in the tech industry has been making headlines lately. As a technology company with two female executives at the helm, Fathym finds itself in a unique position to discuss why there is this lack of diversity and what we think needs to be done to redress the balance.

Once dominated almost exclusively by men, the working world has become a much healthier mix of men and women, as women now represent 47% of the workforce,  compared to only 38% in the 1970s. As social norms have changed to encourage women to pursue careers and rising living costs have led families to rely on dual incomes, more women than ever are part of the workforce.

A perpetual cycle

According to The Atlantic, just 17 percent of Google’s technical employees were women, ‘while the female technical force was only 10 percent at twitter, 15 percent at facebook and 20 percent at Apple.’  When 90 percent of the workers at a company or in an industry are male, it perpetuates unconscious bias in hiring and a male-dominated culture that can discourage women from wanting to participate. People tend to surround themselves with people like them. “Birds of a feather flock together,” or so the saying goes.

Data Warehouse Information Architect, Fathym General Manager and board member Patricia Klauer says that, “Today, in my experience, the ratio of women in leadership positions on the business side of corporations to women in leadership positions on the IT side of organizations is very lopsided and even more disparate in startup companies. We are personally struggling to find women to hire into developer positions in our company. It is disappointing that 30 years later we still see this disparity and perhaps even a bit of backsliding from where we were. However, I hope the Millennials will change all that.”

In 2015, Money Magazine published a list of 25 job positions where both men and women earn the same salary. Some of those positions include media producers/directors, special education teachers, and counselors. Unfortunately, there is still a pay gap in the vast majority of jobs and “women generally earn 79 cents for every dollar men earn (CNN Money).” There is only one industry where women always make more money than their male counterparts, and that is fashion modelling.

The bro club

Christy Szoke, the co-founder of Fathym, says of her own experience that “many women, myself included, have a tough time asking for raises or making counter offers. We agonize over the right wording, we create lists and charts of all our accomplishments and market comparables, and we take the ask very seriously. In my experience, males are more likely to just ask for the raise and assume that the value they bring to the company is known.” Business Insider, in 2016, published their annual list of the 10 highest paid tech CEOs. Margaret C. Whitman of HP and Marissa Meyer of Yahoo were the only two women to make the list. Men in tech hold more than 90 percent of the higher salary positions.

The male-dominated tech industry has been in many ways synonymous with ‘bro culture.’ Janet Kornlbum writes in ‘It’s Time to Eliminate Bro-Culture from the Tech Industry‘, “When I covered start-ups starting back in 1996, I remember being shocked by the blatant sexism…Now it’s 16 years later, and guess what? The boys-only sign on the clubhouse has been switched out—to bros-only. The bro culture is hard-wired into many, many startups.” This comes back to the issue of hiring and surrounding oneself with like-minded individuals. If the company has a frat boy mentality, new hires feel they have to fit in to succeed.

In ‘Why is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women‘, Liz Mundy writes, “Women not only are hired in lower numbers than men are; they also leave tech at more than twice the rate men do. It’s not hard to see why. Studies show that women who work in tech are interrupted in meetings more often than men. They are evaluated on their personality in a way that men are not. They are less likely to get funding from venture capitalists, who, studies also show, find pitches delivered by men—especially handsome men—more persuasive.” This is especially interesting in that several recent studies have shown that women-led companies tend to be more profitable yet they are still statistically underfunded by venture capitalists.

This is supported by a new study titled Is Gender Diversity Profitable?, where it is concluded that “after analyzing results from 21,980 publicly traded companies from a variety of industries and sectors in 91 countries, the research showed that having leadership positions held at least 30 percent by women adds 6 percent to net profit margin.” What this ultimately points out is that women are devalued in these environments. They are held up to different standards and discouraged from participating even when their participation could improve the bottom line.

As Ms. Szoke notes, “Being in Industrial IoT means that there are very, very few women that I regularly interact with. IIoT is a combination of the technology and industrial sectors, such as transportation, energy and oil and gas. These are male-heavy industries, so I have gotten used to being the sole woman in a room full of men. I feel fortunate that most of the men I work with are extremely supportive and treat me as an equal, but I have experienced moments where some men look to you, as the only woman in the room, and assume you’re there in a support role, rather than as an expert, founder or technologist.”

Boys are taught to be brave, Girls to not be bossy

The lack of women in tech may ultimately stem from the way boys and girls are socialized differently from the time they are young children through adulthood. Reshma Saujani’s TED Talk, ‘Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection,’ delves into this issue and points out, “Most girls are taught to avoid risk and failure. We’re taught to smile pretty, play it safe, get all A’s. Boys, on the other hand, are taught to play rough, swing high, crawl to the top of the monkey bars and then just jump off head first. And by the time they’re adults, whether they’re negotiating a raise or even asking someone out on a date, they’re habituated to take risk after risk.”

Ms. Szoke has experienced this first hand as well. “I excelled at math and science in school, but I felt my interest wane by the time I reached high school. I think this happens to a lot of girls at that age. We’re not encouraged to study math and science in the same way we’re encouraged to, say, care about boys and makeup.”

The base issue is that from the get go, boys and girls are treated differently. Of course, this is 2017 and the times are changing. But these societal expectations still linger. Boys aren’t supposed to cry or show emotions. Girls are taught to not be too “bossy” or confrontational. No matter how progressive the times are, as long as our boys and girls are raised in these stereotypical roles, change won’t occur.

As you would expect, most computer science majors are male. “I didn’t even consider a major in computer science. It just wasn’t on my radar as an option,” says Ms. Szoke, who graduated with degrees in journalism, art and art history. However this is not the case at Harvey Mudd University. The professors there discovered three reasons why women weren’t signing up to major in computer science. “Using student feedback, observations from class and a bit of creative social psychology, professors identified three key reasons female students did not major in computer science: They didn’t think they would be good at it, they couldn’t imagine fitting into the culture and they just didn’t think it was interesting (LA Times).”

“In my experience it started in grade school.” Ms. Klauer says, “As a young girl, I was not encouraged to study math so when I took an aptitude test for programming and aced it, I was as surprised as anyone else. In 1986, I was hired as a beginner into a systems programming job at MIT by a female boss. Common Business Oriented Language, which was invented by Admiral Grace Hopper, was highly used and women were embraced in technology circles although the ratio was still male dominated.”

On a mission of change

There are groups that help support women in their work lives though, spaces where they can share these mutual experiences while learning and growing from them. On a national scale, Women in Technology is an excellent resource and an enclave of networking and support for women in the tech industry. Women in Technology (WIT) has the mission of “Advancing women in technology — from the classroom to the boardroom.” Their goal as an organization is to help women succeed in an industry that women have been coached not to do well in. Women helping women is part of what they aim to do to help one another thrive in the tech sector.

She Says is another nationwide organization that supports women in digital and creative industries. Because of the big tech presence in the Boulder area, their chapter has expanded to include the larger tech industry and entrepreneurship. As SheSays Boulder explains, “The world is pretty much half men and half women. So why are there so few women working (and leading) in digital? We’re on a mission to change that.”

Another great organization is Girls Who Code. The mission of Girls Who Code is to close the gender gap in technology. The organization teaches girls how to code, and has become a nationwide organization that runs after-school programs and what they call an “immersion program” in the summer. They help foster a desire in girls to break the mold that society has cast upon them. The skills they help develop and the exposure to tech industry jobs is invaluable for these girls.

“I love that ‘geek culture’ is now celebrated and that women are getting in on the fun. I’m encouraged that women are so supportive of one another in this community. She Says Boulder and Girl Develop It are making it less intimidating for women to really take their skills to the next level, network and support each other in their careers,” says Ms. Szoke.

So how do we bridge the gender gap?

While women in tech do have to face adversity, it is a rewarding industry to be a part of. The tech industry churns out incredible products, software and hardware that will ultimately change lives and improve our future. It is critical that women have a voice and hand in creating these products so that they can reflect the needs of the entire population.

“For our part, we are always looking to expand the diversity of our team. For all you girls out there interested in tech – don’t give up! Being a part of an innovative industry makes for a very rewarding career and we need your voices to make truly great tech,” says Ms. Szoke.

So how do we bridge the gender gap? We do this by empowering women and supporting them from the get go. We do this by encouraging equality in pay for women doing the same exact same work as their male counterparts. We do this by both encouraging girls and driving awareness around this issue. Little changes can make an enormous difference for countless individuals out there, and that’s a beautiful thing.