Shortage of Women in Tech Kills Productivity

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In recent months, it’s become more apparent than ever that the culture inside many IT organizations isn’t welcoming to women. Whether the result of benign neglect or outright failure to call misogynistic behavior to account, the end result is that there are fewer women as a percentage of the IT workforce: a recent New York Times article reported that women hold only 25 percent of IT jobs, and that roughly half will eventually quit to pursue a completely different line of work, such as self-employment or a nonprofit position.

The irony of this is that many tech executives feel that IT teams that include women often get more done. Kirsten Wolberg, vice president of technology for PayPal, reports that application development teams that include women as members are 10 to 15 percent more productive than those that don’t. “Women tend to work more cohesively,” she said. “They also tend to connect with the customer more when trying to solve a problem.”

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The lack of women on IT teams could stem, at least in part, from a relatively low number of female STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) graduates. In 2012, for example, only 15.1 percent of young women surveyed by the National Institute of Science indicated that they intended to pursue a STEM discipline as a major, while a mere 0.4 percent planned to obtain a computer-science degree.

Wolberg believes that, among her male peers, the hostility towards women taking mathematics was palatable, and attributed that hostility to the intense level of competition that exists in the STEM fields.

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Susanna Williams, principal for consulting firm BridgED Strategies, said that, when she was growing up, all the math teachers in high school where male: “After the eighth grade, all the math teachers were men… That makes it really hard for a woman to find a mentor.”

Without mentors, women often drift into other fields. In the absence of women, males dominate the mathematics culture, with negative effects down the road. Ritankar Das, CEO of See Your Future, a nonprofit learning platform aimed at women and minority students, thinks that, while it’s incumbent on companies to put training programs in place to educate employees about acceptable behavior in the workplace, the problem isn’t going to be permanently solved until it’s also addressed early: “It’s a systematic problem that will take time to solve.”

Alexandra Meis, chief product officer for Kinvolved, a provider of online attendance-tracking for schools, believes that issues with interacting with men exists both inside and out of IT. Venture capitalists, for example, can be downright patronizing towards women: “I’ve sat next to a guy who has no revenue and the investor wants to know everything about their business… In the meantime, I’m working in a business that is already generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.”

On the other hand, Meis noted, managing a male-dominated IT culture can be a lot easier when the leader of the IT team understands how to work well with women: “In terms of managing that interaction, our CTO is great.”

To a certain degree, many males working in the IT space are easily brought back into acceptable behavioral norms by a forceful personality. But the need for that force shows the pervasiveness of the underlying problem.

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15 Responses to “Shortage of Women in Tech Kills Productivity”

  1. I agree with your comment. In my IT classes in college, I never felt or witnessed any hostility. There were only two girls in my IT classes, incuding me. I was the only Black girl in the majority of all my college classes. The guys in my class were always genuinely nice and helpful if I needed it when it came to classwork or homework. there were new girls coming in every quarter, but most of them ended up dropping out, mostly because they either decided to switch majors because they found it to be too difficult for them. Yes, there were times when I got stressed out from the workload, but dropping out was never an option for me. I asked for help whenver I needed it, and got up earlier every Wednedsay to got to tutoring. Now I have my degree and I don’t regret anything. We also had our own WIT group on campus that met once a month.

  2. “the hostility towards women taking mathematics was palatable”

    Haha what? There’s no such thing as hostility towards women. Women drop out of STEM fields because they find them boring or difficult, not because some mythical patriarchy expelled them.

  3. “Women drop out of STEM fields because they find them boring or difficult” – this is the epitome of misogyny. First of all, it’s not true. As far as finding it “difficult” several studies have shown that the gender difference in math will disappear if women are told that the stereotype that women are not good at math does not apply to that particular test (look up stereotype threat.) Secondly, this is exactly the kind of attitude that would make women feel uncomfortable. Imagine learning something new and someone saying “It’s okay; I understand how difficult this must be for you.”

    “I know plenty of women in CS that get along just fine” – Yes, there are women who do fine. A self-selected group of women who have learned to deal with the issues that people on this comment thread are pretending don’t exist. If you can manage to get over the notion that the tech field is not “feminine” and begin to learn it, and still deal with outright and “benevolent sexism” (i.e. giving extra help with the underlying assumption being that women are less capable, which studies have shown to be more harmful than outright sexism because it is less easily shrugged off as misogyny.) So only listening to the voices of women who have overcome that – sometimes without even realizing it – is ignoring stories of the majority of women who either switched sectors, dropped out, or who might have been interested if they didn’t see it as a masculine profession.

    • I disagree that “Women drop out of STEM fields because they find them boring or difficult” is misogynistic. I’ve taken a good deal of STEM classes. The boring ones were usually caused by a defect in the teacher, which affected everyone in the class, male and female. (Java and C++ classes especially), conversely, “difficult” classes like COBOL were made incredibly interesting by a good teacher with lots of enthusiasm for the subject.

      • Yes, but as you said, both men and women are affected by such classes. The comment was implying that women in particular find it difficult or boring as it was in response to an article explaining that women drop out at a much higher rate. Otherwise, it would be a comment about why STUDENTS drop out of IT.

  4. What Is

    “…women hold only 25 percent of IT jobs, and that roughly half will eventually quit to pursue a completely different line of work…”

    I can understand getting out or never attempting.

    I hold an advanced degree, have 15 years of IT experience, multitude of skills, and get very few interviews. And yes, I have seen jobs and promotions go to less educated/skilled males.

    The new culture of Networking is held above knowledge, skills, and ability. More of such people being hired/promoted means they will hire more of the same. This leads to managers, recruiters, HR without the abiltity to judge talent. People given technical postions without the necessary education or experience and fast tracked to management are common. Critical thinking skills are not valued and quality is sacrificed to profit.

    The lack of IT unions, and corporations writing labor law has allowed wage theft via unpaid overtime for decades. Allowing the import of foreign labor has driven down wages, harmed the skilled and hurt the prospects of graduates and the unemployed.

    If I were starting out, I would not choose this career path again.