There is now an ocean of research to indicate that when companies employ women in meaningful positions such as those of leadership, the business experiences better outcomes. Teams with a high percentage of women also have higher levels of collective intelligence and make better-informed decisions.
So why, then, does the gender gap prevail – and is there any glimmer of hope this might be changing?
When it comes to the information technology industry, the jury’s still out. In Australia, women account for less than a fifth of the IT workforce, and this problem of industry gender disparity goes much further than our isolated shores. In 1984, 37 per cent of all computer science graduates in the United States were women. Gender equality has come a long way since then, and so you’d be forgiven for thinking this figure could only have gone up and up over the decades, right?
Unfortunately, no. In fact, 30 years on it has plummeted to just 18 per cent, and it's estimated by 2020, women will fill a pathetic 3% of the 1.4 million computing-related jobs in the United States.
Despite women, on average, being more educated than men globally and making up the majority of those enrolled in university in nearly 100 countries, we are being left behind. As technology continues its trajectory as one of the world’s fastest growing industries, the gender gap within it widens. But before you throw your hands in the air crying, “What’s the point!?” it’s not all doom and gloom out there.
Technology start-ups Code Like a Girl, Institute of Code and Girls Who Code were all founded with a mission to close the gender gap in technology and encourage more women from around the world into the industry. Girls Who Code has gone from a group of 20 girls in New York in 2012 to a network of 40,000 girls in all 50 U.S states, while global non-profit Women Who Code has connected over 100,000 women, produced 4,200 free technical events, and awarded over $1m in educational scholarships and tickets.
As a student at Australian-founded, Bali-based Institute of Code’s course recently, my class was made up of rookie coders (like me) through to marketers, bloggers, designers, and women already working in tech wanting to up-skill. While the start-up welcomes both sexes on their courses, the women to men ratio consistently ends up being around nine to one, and in my class the gender skew was even more extreme, with all 11 students being female.
Institute of Code co-founder Tina May says through her start-up’s coding retreats, she is actively trying to address the systemic problem of gender role stereotypes that negatively affect women’s own perceptions of the kinds of jobs they can and can’t do.
“Gender norms start at such a young age that it’s almost impossible not to be affected by them," she tells me.
"So then into adulthood we see a trend where women, more often than men, make comments like, 'I’m just not tech savvy' and aren’t always as willing to take a chance on something that they might not be good at… We want them to see that technology is a tool that is accessible to them.”
One of my peers on May’s 10-day coding course was Lucia Martin, a Spanish-born Product Designer currently working at a software company in Berlin. For her, Institute of Code’s focus on empowering women in tech meant signing up was an easy decision.
“IT professions are still male-dominant and it’s not easy for women to be part of that world," she said.
"The tech field is the field I work in, so obviously, I want to work having the same opportunities as my male colleagues and not be discriminated [against] because I am a woman.”
While from geographically and professionally diverse backgrounds, all of the women in my class at Institute of Code were incredibly like-minded and we all had one particular thing in common – ambition.
As it turns out, this was not just a coincidence: 76 per cent of women in tech consider themselves to be “very ambitious,” while a recent survey found that technical women in junior and mid-level executive roles expressed strong leadership ambitions. Over 85 per cent of these women wanted career advancement in the next three years and more than half – 62 per cent – revealed they are seeking a C-suite (CEO / CIO / CFO) or senior management position in the future.
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Mandy Weih, another one of my peers on the course, can relate to this. A UX designer from North Carolina, Weih openly admits she has “C-level dreams” and signed up to Institute of Code to improve her development skills. Having spent the last few years living in Vienna and Hong Kong, she has seen first-hand that the gender gap in tech is an utterly universal one.
“I've been living abroad for a while, and generally see the same issue in all places - lots of women are keen on joining the field, but they never really are able to move higher up the corporate ladder without immense personal sacrifice," she says.
Weih’s comments ring true to women around the globe. A recent study found one in three women working in science, engineering and technology feel “stalled” in their careers and are likely to quit their jobs within one year. Isolation and a lack of mentorship were cited as the key barriers to their career retention and advancement.
But despite this uphill battle, Weih and Martin are hopeful the gender gap in tech is shifting, thanks to female-centric start-ups like Institute of Code, the “tireless work” of diversity advocates, more and more all-women tech panels and the empowering effect of social media.
As two women at the coalface of this industry, they suggest gradual change is change nonetheless, and any progress is something to celebrate.
“I'm actually quite optimistic about the future. Every week I see more healthy one-to-one discussions on Twitter, Medium, Instagram, etcetera, and that's where all of this has to be addressed - by starting a grassroots campaign where enough is enough,” says Weih.
“So to read, hear, and have these talks with increasing frequency is very encouraging. Coding has the potential to become one of the core base skills taught in school, like literacy and arithmetic.
"But in order for it to get there, we have to remove the stigma of STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering, Math - as being a 'man's world.'”
Madelin Tomelty is a lifestyle and travel writer. She reviews luxury hotels and resorts and writes about her favourite holiday destinations on her website, Never Leaving: A Guide to Luxury Travel.
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