Why aren’t more women in tech? | TopMBA.com

Why aren’t more women in tech?

By Laura L

Updated December 21, 2022 Updated December 21, 2022

Where the terms women and men are mentioned in this article without reference to an official statistic, these words are used to refer to self-identifying women and men. 

The technology industry has boundless career opportunities and offers long-term prosperity for millions of global workers.  

Despite layoffs in 2022 across big tech firms in the US, the need for technology professionals is prolific in a growing industry, but gaps in tech talent reflect the historical bias of the industry and raise an important question about gender in the workforce: why aren’t more women in tech?  

Female representation in large global technology firms is roughly 33 percent of the overall technology workforce, according to Deloitte Global. The proportion of women in technical roles, while increasing, has lagged behind the overall proportion of women in the workforce by about eight percent.  

According to talent automation firm Entelo, women account for only 16 percent of senior level tech jobs and 10 percent of executive positions. Together, these data demonstrate the significant gap facing women entering and succeeding in the tech workforce.  

Diversity in the workforce ensures different approaches to questioning and framing that might otherwise be absent. However, even with clear upsides including higher-than-average pay, benefits, and upward mobility, too few women are advancing in the technology field.  

The question is what can be done about it and how do companies, communities and higher education play a role?  

Moving past the stereotypes of working in tech 

As a long-time technology professional, executive, professor and researcher, I’ve considered the issue from multiple angles. For certain, there are culturalised hiring and promotion practices that have hindered women from entering the industry, gaining ground and reaching positions of influence. There are too few mentors for women and a lack of role models. Women are at the back of the line for training and advancement opportunities.  

Unfortunately, the tech industry is also rife with biases and stereotypes that undercut women and insult men. The ideas that the tech industry is comprised of socially awkward, nerdy men and that women don’t work in technology because they are bad at math are simply untrue.  

To make strides, a comprehensive approach is needed. Women need to be engaged in decision-making, design and scientific thinking as part of addressing women-in-tech challenges.  

Here’s how change can be made within the industry and how self-identifying women and their allies can hold organisations to account:  

Project inclusivity from the top 

Representation matters, so it’s important for business leaders to ask why there aren’t more women on the executive team or board of directors, and take an active role in finding women leaders.  

Talent acquisition is an important area to make change and ask questions like: Who is receiving coaching, mentoring and championship? What assumptions are being made about an individual’s current capability and future potential? Are different standards applied to some people? Who is missing and how can we engage them? 

As a future leader, it’s important to foster conversations around diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging from an early stage. Addressing this corporate culture issue includes checking in with potentially marginalised individuals to ensure everyone is heard and actively listening to different experiences. Modelling this is an important element in activating a shift in organisational culture change.  

Leading inclusively by active, intentional and ongoing efforts to promote the full participation and belonging of every stakeholder and strategic partner will ensure that women and other marginalised groups are invited to the table, supported in using their voices, and listened to.  

Marginalised women and other individuals may not have daily direct access to the CEO, but if there is an opportunity for someone to suggest changes with bottom-line impacts – such as hiring and retaining more tech talent – CEOs want to know.  

Work with industry, business, and educational partners  

Resources from outside the technology industry can aid in ushering in women in tech and helping them advance. Industry groups exist to promote girls’ and women’s empowerment on a local, national and global level.  

Advocacy group Women in Tech hosts events, offers skills development, links mentees with mentors, and increases accessibility to technology for women around the world. Organisations also exist on the national and local level such as the National Association for Women & Information and Technology, Project Include and Girls Who Code.  

Graduate-level education programmes must work with women students to encourage a fully leveraged experience. Hundreds of women at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School are exposed to senior level women in tech through the Center for Women in Leadership conferences and programmes.  

Additionally, our alumni have opportunities to network both in-person and virtually through our full calendar of professional development events such as women in leadership conferences, SEER (Socially, Environmentally, and Ethically Responsible) symposiums and entrepreneurial opportunities. 

I encourage those who want to succeed at the highest level to engage in life-long learning, through formal training like an MBA, or at-work training opportunities like Grow with Google, which is free. Extracurricular reading like technical trade magazines and books are also an invaluable source of exposure to innovative ideas and industry trends.  

Create an ally culture 

An unfortunate reality is that women and other marginalised people in the tech industry face discrimination, mistreatment, incivility and rudeness at levels that often exceed other industries. Merely acknowledging workplace bias is not enough. It requires action from everyone.  

In recent times, companies have intentionally established goals that are data-driven and inherently less likely to be influenced by unconscious biases. In a 2019 study, consulting firm Deloitte described the phenomenon of supporting others who have different experiences, backgrounds or perspectives.  

The study also points to the actions of allies who can close the gap between intention and action. In my own experience, allies foster a culture of empathy, authenticity and awareness and can be crucial in encouraging companies to make changes.  

Advancing women in tech is a long game. At Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, allyship is a key ingredient in our executive MBA programme and a lesson for participating executives. Students in a cohort setting spend 19 months together learning personalities and strengths, and building trust. Learning to be an ally is a best practice they take back to their own workforce.  

Mentorship for career and skill development 

An overwhelming canon of academic research correlates mentorship with positive outcomes. Results from a 2008 study in the Journal of Vocational Behavior showed mentors can impart specific knowledge and expertise which contributes to protégé learning and skill development.  

Senior executives all the way to the corporate board can play a role in participating and encouraging mentoring that develops and projects gender-equity values. Participation in an executive MBA or MBA programme gives the opportunity to learn new approaches, share and compare ideas, and lead with cultural competence. 

I am privileged to have mentors and champions who I can call on at any time, who will listen and provide feedback as well as encouragement. I’ve found it essential to have champions who understand the challenges of working and researching in the tech area as well as the difficulties women face.  

I now choose to be that mentor and champion both in the boardroom and in the classroom, encouraging and helping women to find a board seat and meeting with my students and alumni to assist them in their career goals in tech. 

Change is happening in the industry  

In the face of these challenges, many large tech companies have gone on the record vowing to do better.  

According to Deloitte, software company SAP achieved its target of having 25 percent women in leadership by 2017 and is working toward a new goal of 30 percent by 2022.  

In 2020, Intel established a goal of raising women’s representation in technical roles to 40 percent and doubling the share of women in senior leadership by 2030. Amazon pledged in 2021 to expand the number of women in senior tech and science roles by 30 percent year over year.  

The picture for women in tech startup companies is less flattering. According to an analysis by Crunchbase, the proportion of dollars to female-only founders has also declined, to 2.3 percent, compared to 2.8 percent in 2019. These and other early-stage companies need to be held accountable by their institutional and individual investors. 

In a company setting, the corporate board of directors should also set high goals of representation which will ultimately change the culture and expectations throughout organisations. 

The COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on women who have a larger share of family obligations and as a result, a large number of women departed the tech industry in 2020-2021. However, as the workplace becomes more predictable, the door is open for women to enter the technology industry in large numbers. With greater acceptance of hybrid and work-from-home arrangements, there may be more arrangements available to accommodate schedules with reasonable workloads. 

Higher education can still up its game 

Corporate training programmes and higher education are part of the equation. However, they also need to up their game.  

In the MBA space, women’s enrollment in full-time MBA programmes increased to a record 41 percent overall in the fall of 2021, up from 39 percent according to data from research firm Forté Foundation.  

However, when compared to nearly 60 percent of overall undergraduate enrollment, the MBA participation rate is far too low. In corporate training and academic settings, access to technology, online programmes, greater marketing, more women trainers, corporate/academic classrooms, and curriculum partnerships need to be integrated and accessible to women. 

For their own sake, women earning an MBA who want to excel in the technology industry should meet with faculty and peers with connections in technology, use MBA programme resources to establish mentoring relationships with executives, join technology groups and clubs, and engage in internships.     

The economic impact of leaving women out 

The reality is when women face obstacles the impact reverberates. In the US, the labour force lost more than one million women between February 2020 and September 2022. Any economist will tell you that labour force participation in an era of low unemployment has far-reaching financial consequences including lower gross domestic product, productivity and inflation.  

In the tech industry, famous for worker shortages, the foregone financial impacts from unfilled jobs, stymied growth, and burnout are even more severe. That’s why women succeeding in the tech industry is not a nicety, it is a necessity. 

Encouraging women in the tech industry is critical for advancing economic potential for all workers at all levels. For women seeking a career with generally higher wages, better job security and more interesting work, technology positions are available in large numbers. 

I'm optimistic about the prospect of more women joining and succeeding in the industry. Already, companies, advocacy organisations and graduate business programmes are stepping up to give women greater knowledge and access. As technology continues to evolve, global communities grow and ideas and resources are shared with greater ease. I believe entrenched strongholds can be torn down. In that world, opportunities for women and marginalised groups will be equally boundless.  

 

Charla Griffy Brown, PhD, is Senior Associate Dean Executive and Part-Time Programs and Professor of Information Systems Technology Management at the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School.  

This article was originally published in December 2022 .

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As Senior Content Editor for TopUniversities.com and TopMBA.com, Laura publishes articles for our student audience around the world, working with ambassadors and alumni to provide helpful content to those looking for study options. Laura has six years' experience in Higher Education marketing and writing for a student audience. 

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