“I grew up around computers because of my dad. I remember playing games on his Amiga as a toddler, and he got his first PC when I was 5 so I learned to install and set up all my own games. Throughout my childhood I was better than any of the boys at using computers – I was lucky. So I never felt that it was a male-dominated world… until college and after college.”
As part of our #pressforprogress campaign, we asked 74 developers, designers, senior managers and recruiters what it’s like to work in tech as a woman.
93.1% of those we asked feel that software engineering is a male-dominated industry. 85.7% of recruiters believe there is a problem recruiting women into tech roles.
We asked them about their motivations, experiences throughout university and in the startup world, why there’s a lack of women in tech and what startups and recruiters can do about it.
This is what they said…
Why is there a shortage of women in tech?
1. A lack of early exposure to tech
We need to show children from early on that everyone can create code. Playfulness and curiosity is the way to build a path where kids can learn equally.
Interestingly, 42% of those we asked had been exposed to computers or other forms of tech as children, often through parents or older siblings. Although some came to tech later, either through accident, job progression or the influence of peers and mentors, a large number became interested in tech at a young age. Family, friends, peers and teachers are therefore hugely influential.
However, a majority of respondents believe we should do more to expose women to tech at a younger age, particularly because tech toys are marketed almost solely to boys.
Computers have been sold as toys for boys for decades. This needs to change
It starts at early age: we need to change cartoons. Anna & Elsa (from the Disney film, Frozen) should code and build figures from ice bricks, not just change their clothes and wear make-up and high heeled shoes.
Toy stores just assume what should be for girls and what should be for boys… and usually tech-focused things are for boys. Just look at the general aesthetics of a video game.
2. Lack of tech opportunities at school and university
The lack of opportunities for women to engage with tech continue throughout school and university.
57.1% of developers felt that schools and universities aren’t doing enough to encourage women to study tech-related subjects. 26.7% believe the shortage of women in tech can be put down to a lack of technical opportunities at school.
Disclaimer: We asked women currently working in the tech industry, and in the last 20 years a huge amount has been done by amazing organisations like Girls Who Code and She Plus Plus to promote equal access to tech opportunities for students of diverse backgrounds. In many countries, computer programming is now mandatory in schools.
3. A lack of female role models
The availability and influence of role models is an important issue for women in tech.
Not only did the developers we spoke to lack female role models in their personal lives, but teachers at school and university were overwhelmingly male and often failed to include examples of inspirational female programmers and technologists. Respondents also noted the lack of encouragement from friends, family members and peers. Several felt they lacked confidence in their abilities or in their choice of tech as a career.
I had no female role models. My father worked in electronics and I grew to like it.
I had only male teachers and to be honest they weren’t all that encouraging.
Interestingly, although only 10.1% had female role models growing up, men are stepping up to fill the void. 13.5% were positively influenced by male role models and 8.4% by their fathers.
Respondents also noted the lack of encouragement from friends, family members and peers. Several felt they lacked confidence in their abilities or in their choice of tech as a career (more on this later!).
For women to be attracted to the idea of pursuing a career in technology, they need to be told from a very young age that they can be as good as the boys. I still feel sometimes that I’m out of my depth, but I am lucky as I also realise that most of my male colleagues feel the same way, they are just less likely to show it.
4. The tech startup culture
We need to combat the outdated stereotype that engineers are anti-social weirdos.
Many tech companies have a pizza & beer culture and brag about these goodies, but there’s very little focus on doing something for people who might not be interested in these benefits. Many companies also have a workaholic/push yourself harder culture rather than caring about employees.
58.9% of respondents agreed that there is a problem with tech culture, whether that’s the TV-born “computer nerd” cliches, the “pizza and beer” culture of startups, or their focus on “competition over collaboration”.
Several also noted that, growing up, they had faced discrimination because of their choice to pursue a tech career.
In our university, there was very obvious sexism and discrimination. And the female professors were as bad as the male ones. There should be more awareness of this subject, more support, and more empathy between the women in the field.
There are less women in tech. Why does it matter?
Three clear reasons startups should hire more women kept coming up in respondents’ answers:
1. Diversity “of thought and experience” breeds innovation
It’s well researched that companies which are more diverse have a propensity for creativity and ultimately perform better – It’s in the interest of the business.
Tech needs a diverse perspective. Especially in machine learning, where there’s a risk of biased programming and interpretation.
2. Female developers bring different skills to the tech table
Women are quick, organised and disciplined.
Women and men work and think differently. In male dominated industries, it’s very hard to change the status quo. By incorporating more women, there might be a higher likelihood that positive social change can flow from the private sector out to the public sector.
3. Customers are women too
Startups’ customers or users are not all male, not one colour or one nationality. And if you only get one type of person or one gender’s perspective on things then how are you truly going to convince your customers that you care about them?
Women comprise 50% of technology users. It makes sense that companies’ staff should reflect this.
Diversity of perspective helps to ensure that the user is well and thoroughly represented.
Plus (obviously!) the shortage in tech talent more broadly. As one respondent succinctly pointed out, “More women = more candidates. More engineers = more stuff you can make, more quickly.”
So, what can we do about it?
Although respondents overwhelmingly agreed that there is a problem within the tech ecosystem, they were optimistic about the industry’s capacity for change, as well as the work that’s already going on. Based on their feedback and our own research, we’ve written three blog posts on the areas most desperately in need of change – and the steps we can take to hire more women in tech.
Startups need to:
We’ve created a free guide to help startups hire more women in tech.
From startup culture and candidate experience to supporting the next generation, there are lots of simple steps you can take to attract, engage and retain more female candidates.