We recently wrote a piece about the gender gap in tech that got a huge response from readers. Clearly, we touched a nerve in terms of what women in tech are facing, as well as the importance of gender equality (not to mention equality in general) in tech organizations. After all, these are the companies building the tools that are, quite literally, changing the world. Representation here matters because it impacts the algorithms that power big decisions, the products that are built and the ways in which we decide to solve (or not solve) some very big problems.
Just to catch you up, women only hold 25% of professional computing occupations in the U.S. and 28% of STEM jobs. In addition, despite the fact that women’s workforce participation has increased steadily since the 1970s, the number of women in tech has remained relatively static for decades.
What’s going on here? We wanted to hear from readers about their experiences with the gender gap, so we sent out our annual Gender Gap survey. (You can check out last year’s survey results here.) Our survey of 300 people in the tech industry revealed that not everyone agrees on just how much of a problem gender bias presents – or whether or what should be done about it.
Read: 3 Myths About Women Working in Tech, Busted
A Look at the Respondents
In our survey, we received responses from nearly 300 people from across the United States and Canada. Responses were relatively evenly split between men and women; they included people from across the age spectrum and in a number of different roles in the tech industry.
Gender Representation in Tech Companies
We asked respondents about gender representation in the companies at which they were currently employed. Overall, respondents told us they believed that 30% of their companies’ management teams and 27% of their companies’ executive teams were female.
30% of respondents’ management teams and 27% of respondents’ executive teams were female.
Although these numbers are estimates and are self-reported, they are in line with other available data.
That said, individual responses varied widely in terms of representation. Some respondents said their company’s leadership included no female representation at all, while other, smaller organizations reported rates of female representation as high as 94%.
Gender parity at the department level told a different story; more than 45% of respondents said that there were no or only a few women in their department. When women are under-represented at lower levels in the company, it paints a grim picture in terms of the prospects for better representation at the management and executive levels in the future.
More than 45% of respondents said that there were no or only a few women in their department.
Workers’ Experiences with Gender Bias
The vast majority (77%) of our female respondents said they had experienced gender bias in the workplace at some point in their careers; nearly 50% had experienced gender bias within the past year.
“A female peer developed a great product and once it left Beta, it was transitioned to a male colleague.”
“I’ve picked up help desk calls and heard ‘Can I speak to a man please?’ and management let that go.”
Interestingly, the survey’s male respondents said they’d experienced gender bias as well, although at lower rates.
“I got pregnant and ‘for the good of my baby,’ they decreased my activities as Team Leader and set me aside.”
Also of note: 26% of men said they had seen women experience discrimination based on gender; 54% said they had not. Almost 50% of women said they’d experienced discrimination in the workplace based on gender.
Almost 50% of women said they’d experienced discrimination in the workplace based on gender.
We know that an equal workforce starts with hiring, so we asked respondents whether their companies prioritize gender equality in hiring. Respondents were fairly evenly split on the subject:
33% of respondents said gender equality in hiring is a high priority where they work, and more than 64% said it was a priority, if not a high one.
Male respondents rated gender equality in hiring to be a higher priority than female respondents; 39% of men said gender equality was a high priority in their company, while 31% of women said the same.
30% of female respondents said gender equality was not a priority in their company’s hiring practices, compared to 18% of men.
“There is a lack of female candidates that apply for certain roles which makes it less likely for a female to get the job.”
We also asked respondents about where they felt their organizations were lacking in terms of supporting women and gender equality. The most common answers across the board were the hiring process, lack of work/life balance and lack of mentorship.
Read: Not a Monolith: 3 Top Women in Tech Share Their Journeys
“Women are hired, but then not supported to grow and get leadership positions.”
It is notable, however, that men and women answered this question quite differently. Compared to men, women cited lack of mentorship and the hiring process as greater problems than male respondents.
“We hire, promote and collaborate based strictly on merit.”
We also received a lot of comments from respondents that their companies only hire and promote based on merit – or should. While merit-based hiring and promotion is a worthy goal, studies actually show that a culture based on merit may promote gender inequality rather than reducing it, depending on the conditions. This is because meritocracy tends to rely on managers’ discretion in terms of assessing employee performance. When managers are empowered to assume that their assessments are fair and unbiased without oversight or guidelines around how those assessments affect hiring decisions, it may actually make them more likely to display their implicit biases.
“There’s a lack of accountability for managers of women.”
Why Women Choose Tech (Or Not)
One comment we got from respondents throughout the survey is that maybe there weren’t as many women in tech because “they aren’t interested” or “they don’t want to be.” Our survey respondents said they were in tech because they were passionate about it – 63% of women said that was their key motivation for entering the field, compared to 56% of men respondents.
Broader statistics bear out the notion that the reasons behind the relative lack of women in tech have far less to do with ability and desire than with the gender stereotyping that tends to shape their career choices. For example, a large survey of university students conducted by PWC found that only 16% of females had had a career in tech suggested to them, compared with 33% of males. Combine this with the relative lack of female role models in tech jobs and the field can start to look like a place where only men succeed. (For example, can you name a famous female in tech? The same survey suggested that only 22% of respondents were able to do so, while 66% could call a famous male in tech to mind.)
Read: 4 Things Successful Women in Tech Want Students to Know
COVID-19’s Impact on Working Women
Several reports show that COVID-19 had an immediate and dramatic impact on working women. A 2021 report by McKinsey found that in every year prior to 2019, men were opting out of the workforce at higher rates than women. That changed dramatically during COVID-19, when one in four women said they were considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers, compared to one in five men. A 2021 study of the impacts of COVID-19 on women in tech, in particular, called it “devastating,” citing high rates of burnout. Overall, the pandemic served to widen the gender gap in tech. In our survey:
60% of men said the pandemic impacted both men and women equally; 13% said it impacted men more, while 9% said it impacted women more.
56% of women said the pandemic impacted both genders equally, but 23% said it impacted women more than men.
In terms of the changes our respondents experienced as a result of the pandemic, 46% of women said they experienced no change, while 23%said that the pandemic had negatively affected their employment, including 10% who lost their jobs, 7% who had to take a position with lower pay or fewer hours, 4% who reduced their hours, and another 4% who quit their job and had yet to secure another. That said, 21% of female respondents also said they had moved to a better or higher paying job during the pandemic. This may be due to some of the increased opportunities and demand for tech professionals the pandemic provided.
Although 23% of female respondents said that COVID-19 had negatively affected their employment, 21% also said they had moved to better or higher paying jobs during the pandemic.
Closing the Gender Gap
We wanted to know what our respondents thought were the reasons behind the under-representation of women in the tech workforce. The No.1 answer women respondents in our survey gave to this question was that it’s hard for women to get promoted to senior level positions; 53% of women respondents cited this as a reason for the gender gap in tech. This could impact the number of women entering the field in two key ways: First, it would mean they wouldn’t have the support at the senior level from women who would be more likely to hire, promote and mentor them. It may also mean that women don’t see tech as an area where they can succeed compared to other career paths with greater female representation.
53% of the women in our survey said that the gender gap in tech persists because it’s hard for women to get promoted to senior-level positions.
Other top reasons for the gap according to women respondents included tech’s “bro culture” (46%), schools’ and universities’ lack of promotion of tech careers to women (43%) and the fact that women know the field is male-dominated, which serves to discourage them from entering (38%).
“In my experience, women need to continually prove themselves so as not to be seen as less than or given admin related roles. That is exhausting.”
Men respondents, on the other hand, did not agree that it was harder for women to be promoted to senior-level positions in the tech industry; only 30% of men respondents cited this as a top reason for the gender gap, compared to 53% of women. (The broader statistics are not on their side here – research by Pew Research Center found that majority-male workplaces report higher rates of gender discrimination. This suggests fields dominated by men may, in fact, be less hospitable to women.)
“The bro culture locks women out of opportunities – it’s not that women don’t want to work in the field.”
While 28% of respondents also told us that their company offered training programs and opportunities just for women, 57% of respondents said their companies did not.
Survey respondents agreed that increasing the number of women in tech will require more support at the university level, more mentorship and support, and better education around what a tech career entails. This applied both to helping more women get into tech, as well as retaining them once they arrived. (Research shows that women leave the tech industry at a rate that is 45% higher than men.)
“Do whatever you do to retain men. Good pay, good benefits, good work environment, show respect, etc.”
“I really think it starts early – more education, more awareness, young, about tech work being a possibility. The rest, I expect, will work itself out.”
“We need education on the valuable contributions being made by women in the industry. This will decrease the present discrimination and encourage women to gravitate towards the industry.”
“If more young women know what a career can look like in tech, more will pursue one. When I thought of tech, I pictured the startup in a garage with video games and a pool table. Tech is much bigger than that and you do not realize that at a young age.”
“I strongly sought gender balance in IT, despite a male dominated industry – but lack of female candidates (applications) made that nearly impossible. This has to start in K-12 and college. Business cannot solve this problem.”
What the Future Looks Like
As a final note, we asked respondents how long they thought it would take for gender distribution to be equal in the tech industry. Responses were pretty evenly divided between options, with respondents suggesting parity could be achieved in as little as five years, to it taking more than 20 years. Most respondents (32%), however, said they didn’t think equal gender distribution would ever happen in tech.
Most respondents (32%) said they didn’t think equal gender distribution would ever happen in tech.
While that sense of hopelessness is understandable, that outcome is hardly a given. In the U.S., female participation in the labor force as a whole has grown steadily since this 1970s. That shift largely occurred as a result of greater access to education, more demand for workers, and reduced barriers to entry for certain careers. In other words, those changes occurred on a societal and structural level. In order to make the next move for women in tech, the barriers that prevent them from entering and staying in these careers must be removed.