Women in tech statistics: The hard truths of an uphill battle

Despite national conversations about gender diversity in tech, women are still underrepresented, underpaid, and often discriminated against in the tech industry, numbers show.

Diversity is critical in tech, as it enables companies to create better and safer products that take everyone into consideration, not just one section of society. Moreover, a 2020 report from McKinsey found that diverse companies perform better, hire better talent, have more engaged employees, and retain workers better than companies that do not focus on diversity and inclusion. Despite this, women remain widely underrepresented in IT roles.

Statistics from the following nine facets of IT work, ranging from higher education to workplace environment, paint a clear picture of the challenges women face in finding equal footing in a career in IT.

The employment gap

Women make up 47% of all employed adults in the U.S., but as of 2015, they hold only 25% of computing roles, according to data from the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). Of the 25% of women working in tech, Asian women make up just 5% of that number, while Black and Hispanic women accounted for 3% and 1%, respectively. All this despite the fact that the growth of STEM jobs has outpaced the growth of overall employment in the country, growing 79% since 1990 while overall employment has grown 34%, according to data from Pew Research Center. Despite national conversations about the lack of diversity in tech, women are disproportionally missing out on this boom.

The degree gap

According to data from the National Science Foundation, more women than ever are earning STEM degrees — and they are catching up to men in earning bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering (S&E) subjects. But when you isolate by field of study, women earned only 19% of computer science degrees at the bachelor level in 2016, compared to 27% in 1997. Still, while women are less represented in undergrad CS departments, those who do pursue computer science degrees are more likely to dive more deeply these days, as the percentage of master’s degrees in computer science earned by women rose to 31% in 2016, up from 28% in 1997.

The retention gap

Once a diploma is earned, the real work begins, and here the numbers for women in tech are perhaps even more troubling. Only 38% of women who majored in computer science are working in the field compared to 53% of men, according to data from the National Science Foundation. Similarly, only 24% of women with an engineering degree still work in engineering, compared to 30% of men. This is a consistent trend that has been dubbed a “leaky pipeline,” where it’s difficult to retain women in STEM jobs once they’ve graduated with a STEM degree.

Workplace culture gap

Women aren’t entering technology jobs at the same rate as men — and one reason can be traced back to male-dominated workplaces. A 2017 poll in the Pew Research Center report found that 50% of women said they had experienced gender discrimination at work, while only 19% of men said the same. The numbers were even higher for women with a postgraduate degree (62%), working in computer jobs (74%) or in male-dominated workplaces (78%). When asked whether their gender made it harder to succeed at work, 20% of women said yes and 36% said sexual harassment is a problem in their workplace.

In addition to increasing the likelihood of gender-related discrimination against women, male-dominated workplaces pay less attention to gender diversity (43%) and cause women to feel a need to prove themselves all or some of the time (79%), according to Pew’s 2017 research. As a comparison, only 44% of women working in environments with a better gender-diversity balance said they experienced gender-related discrimination at work, 15% felt their organization paid “too little” attention to gender diversity, and 52% said they felt a need to prove themselves.

While these numbers show there is still work to do, it’s clear that women working on more gender-diverse teams were less likely to perceive gender inequalities at work. They were less likely to feel their organization would overlook them for an opportunity or promotion and were less likely to feel as if their gender got in the way of their corporate success. Women working in male-dominated environments were more likely to report higher rates of gender discrimination and hostile work environments.

The representation gap

A lack of representation for women in tech can hinder a woman’s ability to succeed in the industry. It can put limits on their opportunities for mentorship and sponsorship and can lend to fostering “unconscious gender bias in company culture,” leaving many women “without a clear path forward,” according to a report from TrustRadius. The report found that 72% of women in tech report being outnumbered by men in business meetings by a ratio of at least 2:1, while 26% report being outnumbered by 5:1 or more.   

Women in tech are unfortunately accustomed to a lack of representation — 72% of women said they have worked for a company where “bro culture” is “pervasive,” while only 41% of men said the same. TrustRadius defines “bro culture” broadly as anything from an “uncomfortable work environment to sexual harassment and assault.” As the study points out, this gap in reporting between genders is likely in part due to a discrepancy in perception, noting that it “can be hard for those in power, or those not negatively affected, to recognize problems within the dominant culture.”

The majority of women in tech (78%) also report that they feel they have to work harder than their male coworkers to prove their worth. Women in tech are also four times more likely than men to see gender bias as an obstacle to promotion. And for women of color in tech, they are even less confident than white women about their prospects for promotion — 37% of women of color in tech report racial bias as a barrier to promotion.

The pandemic gap

Women in tech report facing more burnout than their male colleagues this past year. The report from TrustRadius found that 57% of women surveyed said they experienced more burnout than normal during the pandemic, compared to 36% of men who said the same. That might be because 44% of women also report taking on extra responsibilities at work, compared to 33% of men. And a greater number of women (33%) report taking on more childcare responsibilities than men (19%) at home. Women in tech were also almost twice as likely to have lost their jobs or to have been furloughed during the pandemic than men (14% vs. 8%).

The pandemic has also left women less likely to ask for a raise or a promotion, compared to their male colleagues. In a report from Indeed, surveying 2,000 tech workers, 67% of male respondents said they would be comfortable asking for a raise in the next month and for a promotion. But only 52% of women said they’d be comfortable asking for a raise and 54% said they’d be comfortable asking for a promotion. Women were also less likely to say they felt comfortable asking for flexibility around work location, schedule, or hours than their male counterparts. As the study points out, if women feel discouraged from asking for a raise, while their male colleagues are comfortable doing so, that could lead to widening the gender pay gap in the tech industry even more.

The founder gap

Startups are known for unconventional work environments, but women still struggle there — especially if they’re the founder.

Only one in four startups have a female founder, 37% have at least one woman on the board of directors, and 53% have at least one woman in an executive position, according to a study from Silicon Valley Bank. And the founder’s gender has a direct impact on gender diversity, the study found. For startups with at least one female founder, 50% had a female CEO compared to just 5% for companies with no female founder.

Worse, startups with at least one female founder reported more difficulty finding funding, with 87% saying it was “somewhat or extremely challenging,” while only 78% of startups with no female founder said the same.

The pay gap

Women are not only underrepresented in tech, they are also underpaid — according to a report from Dice, 38% of women report being unsatisfied with their compensation compared to 33% of men. The average salary of a woman in tech who reports being satisfied with their compensation is $93,591, compared to an average $108,711 for men. On the opposite end, the average salary for women who report being dissatisfied with their compensation is $69,543, compared to $81,820 for men.

Women are also more concerned with compensation than most stereotypes would have you believe, according to a 2019 report on Women in Technology from IDC. There’s a myth that women are more preoccupied with benefits and flexibility, but 52% of women care about compensation and pay compared to 33% of men. Additionally, 75% of men believe their employer offers equal pay while only 42% of women say the same. Compensation is certainly a paramount concern for women in tech, who are often making less than their male colleagues.

The IT leadership gap

According to IDC, the percentage of women in senior leadership positions grew from 21% to 24% between 2018 and 2019. And that’s good news, because having women in senior leadership positions can positively impact female employee engagement and retention. In organizations where 50% or more senior leadership positions are held by women, they’re more likely to offer equal pay, and female employees are more likely to stay with the company longer than a year, report higher job satisfaction, and feel the company is trustworthy.

Although these statistics are trending upward, women still feel less enthusiastic about their senior leadership prospects than men. The report found that 54% of men said they felt it was likely that they’d be promoted to executive management in their company. Meanwhile, only 25% of women said the same, noting a lack of support, self-confidence, and mentorship, as well as feeling the need to “prove themselves more than men to get promoted.” 

Courtesy of: Sarah K. White