Recently we’ve noticed a lack of women in tech-based roles. Last year only 30% of employees at 11 of the biggest tech companies were women (when women make up 59% of the total workforce).
This split is represented at the application stage too. Looking at our own statistics from earlier this year, application rates for the internships and graduate jobs is about equal between men and women. But, look at technology-focused positions and only 13% of the applicants were female.
Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the same percentage comes up in women studying computer science degrees. It’s clear: women are hugely underrepresented in the technology world.
Despite what the ex-President of Harvard University infamously said, there’s no evidence for women being biologically worse at technology. So why, when you look up stock photos of businessmen, do you get this:
And when you look up businesswomen you get this:
Why no women in tech?
The first reason behind any underrepresented group in a career is preferential hiring, and the same can be said of women in tech. Ever since women started entering the workplace biased recruitment has been an issue.
In a randomized study, Yale researchers assigned a male or female name to identical applications. When these were submitted to recruiters hiring for scientific positions, the male applicant was rated as “significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant.”
But this isn’t the only issue. Recruitment might be a glass ceiling, but something is stopping some aspiring female techies from even approaching application.
Look back at that 13%, the few female applicants for our technology internships. If you readjust to look at technology positions that offer on-the-job training, the number of female applicants jumps to 33%.
This difference is echoed everywhere.
74% of young girls are interested in computer science, but 18% of computer science graduates are female.
Why such a change? While the numbers still lean towards men, there’s a clear interest in tech amongst female students and graduates. Lack of training that makes a difference, but evidence shows that confidence is a huge factor.
In an interview with Vox, author Claire Shipman points out that show women in the workplace take fewer risks than men. All other conditions being equal, women would ask for promotions once they meet 100% of the qualifications. Men would ask after meeting only 60%.
This might seem unimportant, but as she points out: “confidence is more important that competence.”
What can we do?
With anything as complex as this, there are so many ways to make a difference.
Blind hiring could combat recruitment bias and is already a practice spreading fast. Training women interested in STEM subjects is a ground-up process already underway. Campaigns like WISE (Women In Science, technology and Engineering) work to “boost the talent pool” of women in tech. Encouraging employers to offer internships and entry-level jobs in these sectors could also help to give interested women the head start they might not have.
But presenting the opportunity is only half the battle if this confidence gap is a reality. But female voices in the media now motivate under-confident women (and “silence” some over-confident men). Perhaps it is a matter of time before we’ve leveled the playing field.
Of course the key, above all else, is to keep the conversation going.