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Women in Tech: The Current State of Gender Bias

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In the last 14 years, it has been increasingly difficult to determine the progress of women in technical industries. The general populace assumes that things are improving as, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women comprise 47% of the general workforce. Why then, does the same survey say that women comprise only 26.1% of all "Computer and Mathematical" occupations?

% Women
ALL Computer & Mathematical
Computer Programmers
Software Developers
Web Developers
Computer Support Specialists
Database Administrators
Network Architects
Other Computational

When further specified by field, the highest percentage achieved in a computational field is 39.5% and the lowest is 7.5%, with a median of 23.0% and an average of 24.7%.

Even more shocking is that The New York Times believes these numbers may actually decrease in the future.

In 2012, just 18 percent of computer-science college graduates were women, down from 37 percent in 1985, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.

The article by Claire Cain Miller also provides the infographic below.

So, women aren't just a minority - they're a minority that is shrinking in both directions. Women currently in tech aren't remaining, and fewer young women are starting tech careers. The opportunity to join the technological industries is greater than ever before, and staying in tech is very beneficial. So the question must be raised:

What in the world is keeping women out of tech?

Elissa Shevinsky, also known as #ladyboss and who had her own struggle as a leading woman in tech, thinks she has found both the problem and the solution:

Our knee-jerk response that sexism is at play is correct. It is indeed sexism that has led to Twitter's all-male board. However, that sexism isn't about Twitter's leadership choosing an exceptionally qualified male board member. It's about the hundreds of reasons why women and minorities don't aim higher in their careers. It's about the qualified women and minorities who are overlooked as developers, young entrepreneurs, and potential VCs. 

The solution is to solve the pipeline problem. Let's get more women and other under-represented groups into those boards the same way that men got there, by helping them become CEOs and investors. As for myself, I'm going to keep founding companies. The CEO always has a seat at the table.

And Ms. Shevinsky isn't the only woman who is speaking out against sexism in tech workplaces. Julie Ann Horvath publicly left GitHub in March because she was sick of an office culture that fostered intimidation and disrespect of women.

And check out the distressingly high volume of sexist encounters expressed as anecdotes in a response to a Valley Wag article. Here are two examples:

I no longer touch code because I couldn't deal with the constant dismissing and undermining of even my most basic work by the "brogramming" gulag I worked for. And that started even when I was in school. I was the ONLY female in my university's mid-level programming courses and even though I worked to hard to always be in the top 95% of the curve, if a pasty white guy with thin-rimmed glasses and a tee-shirt with an "ironic" phrase doubted me, I was wrong. I spent my life around midWestern dudes and high school jocks, but there is no misogyny like silicon valley nerd misogyny -whoa-disillusionment

I have a sometimes-mentor that's a woman who has started several tech start-ups. The stories she's told me from VC meetings are horrifying. VCs straight-up refusing to talk to her, blatantly propositioning her in exchange for funding, or literally asking her to bring a man to the meeting "so she has a tech consult" (she's brilliant at tech with a track record to prove it). Seriously, this shit is endemic. -RuthSlayderGinsburg

But there are still people working hard to create positive experiences for women in tech, even though there is disagreement on how to do so (to put it mildly). Most have determined that the first and most effective step forward is just to have more women present in technical offices so that women don't feel so isolated and that sexism has an inbuilt disapproval.

Most also agree that the solution is to encourage young girls to develop the skills needed to enter the tech field. There is a new movement that aims to provide girls with toys that inspire math, science, and spatial skills - toys which are traditionally marketed to boys. One of our DZone Most Valuable Bloggers, Kristina Chodorow, recommends Scratch as a medium to get girls interested in programming. And Julie Ann Horvath created Passion Projects to highlight the achievements of technical women and to inspire the next generation.

Published at DZone with permission of its author, Sarah Ervin.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Dean Schulze replied on Fri, 2014/04/18 - 10:37am

If you are going to claim that sexism is responsible for the relatively small number of women in IT you need to show something to support that.  Neither you or Elissa Shevinsky offers any evidence to support the claim, however.  And, no, a few anecdotes aren't evidence of sexism.  You can find anecdotes to support nearly any thesis you want to.

Have you compared the percentage of women in IT to the number of women in other engineering fields?  How many women are there in petroleum engineering or aerospace engineering?  This phenomena may not be limited to IT.  It may exist throughout all engineering fields.  The task of increasing the number of women in engineering could be much larger and much different than you imagine, but if you don't understand the larger picture you could end up taking on an imaginary enemy rather than addressing any real problem.

I've never seen sexism in my nearly 20 years as a software developer, but then I don't work in Silicon Valley.  Silicon Valley has become a cauldron of toxic politics (e.g. Mozilla),  abusive lawsuits, and collusion by executives to hold down employees salaries.  There is real evidence of collusion to hold down software developers salaries.  That is the kind of evidence you'll need if you want to claim there is some substantial amount of sexism in IT.  Not a few anecdotes.

Of course, if you just want to get angry about something then you won't need facts, evidence, or logic.

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