Is the tech industry intentionally excluding girls? This is a bold idea that must be explored given the rapid pace at which the industry is growing.
In April this year, Google was accused of extreme gender pay discrimination by the US Labor Department which said the tech giant had “systemic compensation disparities.”
The National Center for Women and Information Technology reported that while 57% of professional positions in America were held by women in 2015, only 25% held professional computing occupations.
In August, James Damore, a software engineer on video image search at Alphabet Inc., a Google company based in Mountain View, California, was fired for crafting a controversial memo on gender differences and diversity efforts in the technology industry. His 3,300-word memo has been widely circulated within Google and on social media, prompting higher ups to give him the pink slip.
Damore’s memo argued that biological differences between men and women are primarily responsible for there being too few women in the software engineering field. The 10-page file also claimed that women were generally just less competitive than men, part of differences that are simply universal across different human cultures.
While executives at Google immediately took a defensive stance against this memo, there is indeed a point in all of these. If people took a close look at demographics in the tech industry, it does plainly and simply reinforce Damore’s perception that there is indeed some form of discrimination going on.
Gender biases come in many shapes and forms. Even companies that employ women in various ranks and roles in their organization often don’t have a level playing field. Why? The male workers get more benefits and bigger compensation than their female counterparts.
In April this year, Google was accused of extreme gender pay discrimination by the US Labor Department which said the tech giant had “systemic compensation disparities”. A report from the Guardian quoted Labor Department Regional Director Janette Wipper as saying: “We found systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce.”
Google of course denied the allegations and even tweeted on April 4th that it has closed the gender pay gap and that they provide equal pay across races in the US. The Labor department was not convinced and requested that Google submit a copy of its employees list, salary histories and contact information. After being placed under scrutiny, Google eventually started releasing data.
It reported that as of 2015, women made up 31% of its overall workforce. White employees made up 59% of its workforce, followed by Asians at 32%. African Americans were at 2% and only 3% were from Latino descent.
Incidentally, Google isn’t the only large tech company being investigated for what is said to be unfair labor practices. In January 2017, the Labor Department sued Oracle for allegedly paying white men more than others; eventually leading to more charges of discrimination against African American, Asian and female employees.
Gender Roles Start with Learning and Play
Experts say that education and upbringing play a vital role in how women perceive themselves in the tech world. Researchers working with robots said women perceived robots as toys for boys when they had wheels. What they did to make robots more accessible to girls was to hide the wheels under the robot’s body. The minor difference and adjustment may seem insignificant to some, it has serious effects on how computer science and technology is perceived by girls.
Purposeful design in education isn’t about making Legos colored pink according to gender play patterns. The point is making sure girls’choices are included when it comes to storytelling, as well as music and games. The point of inclusion is what makes them challenge patterns and stereotypes built for them.
Take for example this worrying statistic: only 9.8% of girls are completing A-level data in computing courses. This will translate to even fewer women in the tech industry and leading Silicon Valley in forthcoming years.
According to Bill Mitchell, Director of Education at the IT Chartered Institute, there were only 7,600 students in England who took A-level computing courses. He said the industry is expecting something closer to 40,000 and this number means that the IT world will be suffering from the repercussions for a long while.
More importantly, he noted that very few girls are taking the subject, making up less than 10% of the student body. The problem, he said, begins at primary school and follows through at various levels throughout their education.
Mitchell stressed the need to ensure that today’s young women are leaving school equipped with the digital skills they need to secure a job, gain further training, and finish higher studies.
There is still a ray of hope, though. The Joint Council for Qualifications in the UK reveals a 34% increase in the number of female students taking computer science exams.
In the US, the question of competence and confidence continues to hound female tech students. Detroit-based audit firm KPMG reported that only 37% of female students were confident that they had the skills high-level employers and companies were looking for. Another 37% did not consider holding a graduate job in the tech industry.
The firm’s head of Digital Transformation, Aidan Brennan said that female job seekers are less likely to compete for a job unless they’re truly confident that they have all the skills that the job demands.
Women Who Met the Challenge
To boost women’s confidence and encourage them to continue challenging norms in the tech world, Stemettes, an award-winning social enterprise working group across the UK & Ireland, was founded to inspire and support young women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths careers.
The organization targets girls aged 5 to 22 years old and runs panel events, hackathons, and incubation projects to mold young minds and prepare them for a career in technology.
It may seem like an uphill battle, but the future is quite promising. There are women who have dared the odds and made it big in a male-driven environment like tech. Based on Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women list, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has been named the most powerful woman in technology. Sandberg is said to have a personal fortune amounting to $1.4 billion and her clout is a model for female empowerment in the workplace and at home.
Following Sandberg is YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki who is best known for having advocated Google’s $1.65 billion acquisition of YouTube in 2006. As a result, YouTube is now worth roughly $90 billion.
Another great example is HP CEO Meg Whitman, who assumed the top post in September 2011. There’s also IBM CEO Virginia “Ginni” Rometty, who is the first woman to lead the billion-dollar tech company. Interestingly, she began her career with IBM in 1981 and handled a variety of roles before finally being given the top leadership in January, 2012.
Another woman in tech to look up to is Apple Senior VP Angela Ahrendts who joined the company in 2014. She reports directly to Tim Cook and is responsible for formulating strategies and marketing campaigns for Apple stores, including their online stores and contact centers. Other notable women in tech are Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz; Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat; Ursula Burns the CEO of Xerox; Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, among others.
Before these women became successful at what they did, they were first and foremost students who dared to go beyond gender stereotypes. They had bold ideas and weren’t afraid to be treated differently. They say technology is a man’s world, but with these women at the helm of some of the most powerful companies, there is a place for women in the future.