Women in Tech: Issues and Inspiration for Female Coders

It’s a fact that can’t be denied: there are, quite simply, far fewer women in technology-related fields then there are men. STEM-focused fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) have been typically underrepresented by the fairer sex for decades, and the gap looks to be growing:

“In the United States, the number of women represented in undergraduate computer science education and the white-collar information technology workforce peaked in the mid-1980s, and has declined ever since. In 1984, 37.1% of Computer Science degrees were awarded to women; the percentage dropped to 29.9% in 1989-1990, and 26.7% in 1997-1998. Figures from the Computing Research Association/Taulbee Survey indicate that less than 12% of Computer Science degrees were awarded to women in 2010-11.” - Source

Education (and lack of it)

Education is seen as a major factor in why women are not choosing technology-focused career options. Emphasis on math and computational learning is best received if begun early, and unfortunately for most K-12 kids, there is an underutilization of these two fields. Unfortunately, math is also typically seen as a “male subject”.

“Although teenage girls are now using computers and the Internet at rates similar to their male peers, they are five times less likely to consider a technology-related career or plan on taking post-secondary technology classes. The National Center for Women & Information Technology reports that of the SAT takers who intend to major in computer and information sciences, the proportion of girls has steadily decreased relative to the proportion of boys, from 20 percent in 2001 to 12 percent in 2006. The total number of these students (boys and girls) has also been decreasing since 2001, when it peaked at 73,466.” - Source

Work/Life Balance

There are also wildly differing views on the coding field in general, with many girls seeing it as a “geeky” profession that leaves little time for other pursuits, such as a family life. A generalized lack of perceived role models, lack of acknowledgement from peers and mentors, and underutilization of skills in the workplace can also contribute to women not stepping up in the technology sector – as well as women who are already there getting out for greener pastures.

Is it a cultural thing?

Is it a cultural issue? Perhaps. Even though the following numbers are a bit dated, they still give us a good idea of how computing education is perceived in other countries than the U.S.:

  • “In 1996, females in India were 11.3% of the IT related graduates; in 2002, they were 20.3% of the IT related graduates (nearly doubling in six years).
  • 41% of Iranian CS graduates were female in 1999.
  • In Australia in 1994, 22% of IT graduates were female; by 1998, only 19% of IT graduates were female.
  • Western European countries show females as being less represented in the ranks of computing undergraduates (Germany: 10.5% in 2000, United Kingdom: 19% in 1999, Netherlands: 6.6% in 1999) than in the United States (26.7% in 1998); Northern Europeans (Norway, Sweden, etc.) show the same or more women graduates (Sweden: 30% in 2000, Norway: 23.2% in 1999) as a percentage than the United States for the same years (26.7%).
  • India’s percentage of female IT undergraduates doubled (from 12% to 24%) from 1997 to 2000; South Africa had an impressive 32.1% graduates in 1998; Mexico’s 1999 number was a whopping 39.2%; and Guyana had an astounding 54.5% of female CS graduates in 2001.” - source

Women, Technology, and Employment

What’s the current state of employment for female coders? According to a small survey from an IT and digital firm based in Los Angeles,

  • “Out of every 100 software developers/engineers in Los Angeles, approximately 10-12 are female.
  • In 2011, only 17% of job placements (all for positions in technology in L.A.) were women.
  • Only 7% of developers hired through Q were women.” - source

The Female Advantage

While women are definitely underrepresented in the technical fields, there are also vast opportunities for the unique capabilities that women can bring to this exciting field:

  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that IT will be one of the fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. economy, adding nearly 1.4 million job openings by 2020. Over two-thirds of these jobs could go unfilled due to the insufficient pool of college graduates with computing-related degrees. Women represent a vastly untapped talent pool.
  • Groups with greater diversity solve complex problems better and faster than do homogenous groups, and the presence of women in a group is more likely to increase the collective intelligence (problem-solving ability, creativity) of the group.
  • Companies with the highest representation of women in their management teams have a 34% higher return on investment than did those with few or no women. - source

Organizations for women in tech

The first step is acknowledging that there is a problem, now; it’s time to look at how it’s getting addressed. There are many organizations that are dedicated to women in technology. One is the AWC (Association for Women in Computing), an organization “dedicated to promoting the advancement of women in the computing professions” by “provid(ing) opportunities for professional growth through networking and through programs on technical and career-oriented topics.”

The National Center for Women and Information Technology is an “a non-profit community of more than 300 prominent corporations, academic institutions, government agencies, and non-profits working to increase women's participation in technology and computing. NCWIT helps organizations recruit, retain, and advance women from K-12 and higher education through industry and entrepreneurial careers by providing community, evidence, and action.” They work towards change in higher education, bring together groups for better support, help young companies get off the ground, and lead the way in getting more women involved in the computing field.

The National Institute for Women in Trades, Technology and Science enables those working in the education field to “close the gender gap for women and girls in male-dominated careers, such as technology, the trades and law enforcement.” They offer all kinds of fantastic resources for teachers, including research, training, and classroom tools that give technical assistance to educators, like career videos, case studies, presentations, research projects, as well as national and state policy work.

The U.S. government is dedicating resources to getting more women in technology as well. The Equal Futures App Challenge is an ongoing initiative to create apps that “inspire girls and young women to become leaders in our democracy.”  More about the Challenge below:

“Building on President Obama’s challenge at the UN General Assembly in September 2011, the United States will be working with various country partners in a new international effort – the Equal Futures Partnership – to break down barriers to women’s political participation and economic empowerment. The goal of the Equal Futures Partnerships for each member country to expand opportunities for women and girls to fully participate in public life and to drive more inclusive economic growth. As part of these efforts, the White House Council on Women and Girls is launching an app challenge: to create an app that promotes civic education and/or inspires girls to serve as leaders in our democracy.” - Source

More organizations that are dedicated to mentoring women in the technology fields:

  • Girl Develop It: “an international non-profit that exists to provide affordable and accessible programs to women who want to learn software development through mentorship and hands-on instruction.”
  • CodeEd: Focused on underserved, low-income communities to bring computer science education to girls in middle school and up.
  • Iridescent Learning: “a science-education nonprofit that helps engineers, scientists and high-tech professionals bring cutting edge science, technology and engineering to high school girls, and underprivileged minority children and their families.”
  • Geek Girl Camp: A series of conferences and camps aimed at educating women in technology.
  • The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology: An organization that works to increase the impact of women in technology, as well as make technology have a positive impact on women. They do this by making tools and programs available to enable the advancement in technology in industry, academia, and government.

Inspirational women to watch

There are definitely women who are making a major difference in the technical field, creating apps, websites, and products that are standing out in the crowd. The following resources will give you a head start on finding prominent female coders for inspiration:

  • 15 Female Developers to Follow on Twitter: A curated list of female coders who are quite frankly doing some pretty amazing things. Entrepreneurs, computer scientists, and tenured professors are all represented here, with a spotlight on individual projects.
  •  20 Women Who Developed Mobile Apps: Fascinating case studies from 20 very different women who decided to develop apps for various reasons: to support a business, to extend a personal interest, or just to see if they could do it and do it successfully.
  • The Ten Most Influential Women in Technology: A compilation of a few of the heaviest female hitters in the technology world, including a CEO, several developers, and engineers.

Let’s hear from you, the reader: what do you think is the current situation for women in the technology field? What has been your experience? How would you go about changing it? Do you have an inspirational organization or female techie that you’d like the world to know about?  Share with us in the comments.







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