Number of “geeky” women professionals dropping dramatically

Over the years there’s been a big push around the topic of “women in tech,” with keynotes, seminars, and more all aiming to spotlight influential women in technology as well as aiming to encourage more women to get jobs in tech sectors. Not everyone is quite on board with the “women in tech” focus, let alone with that term, but regardless of whether people find that term either encouraging or disparaging, the cold facts remain that the number of “women in tech” is declining heavily.

A report today in The Financial Times analyzes the female workforce of “geeky” jobs in the U.K. as well as in the U.S. In the U.S. women make up 22% of the IT workforce and of the top 100 tech firms women compose 6% of the chief executive positions. In the U.K., none of the top tech companies have a woman CEO. Furthermore, the number of women technology professionals in the U.K. fell to 18% in 2010, down from 22% in 2001.

This is due to the decrease in number of women studying technology professions in school. Ten years ago 14% of U.K. computer science majors in the U.K. were women. Today, that number has fallen to 9%. The gap is more prevalent in the U.S. where 18% of undergraduate computer science degrees were awarded to women in 2009, down from 37% in 1985.

Alicia Navarro, founder of online advertiser Skimlinks, says, “There is nothing institutional that is stopping women. It is not misogynistic.” The biggest drawbacks of pursuing a tech career were the long hours associated with tech professions as well as the “geek” label that goes with the job. The biggest concern about women is being able to find a healthy balance between work and life at home, something that the IT or other tech professions rarely offer.

The involvement of women in tech on a non-professional level is astounding, with services like Facebook, Groupon, and Zynga having women as their largest user group. Therefore the issue isn’t that women are not interested in tech. “It is fundamentally about getting them in younger. We have to take away the image that it is too geeky,” says Wendy Tan White, founder of U.K. startup Moonfruit.

Geek subculture and stereotypes also play a role in this as women tech professionals often get the “you’re too pretty to be in tech” routine or something similar that labels them negatively. Although geek culture is accepting of females into its ranks, it is a highly male-dominated culture and that can be intimidating for many. e-skills UK, a company that promotes technology learning to young individuals, launched a Computer Club for Girls six years ago to generate interest among younger females. Patchy membership ended up altering the club’s gender-exclusivity, allowing boys in as well. The result was that most girls dropped out of the club completely so e-skills UK is re-launching a girls-only club in September. Other programs promoting women and technology have also launched in the U.K. and the U.S., such as Change the Ratio in New York, Girl Geek Dinners in London, and websites such as Girls ‘n’ Gadgets.

Will these movements help reverse the decline in the number of women tech professionals? Education and positive reinforcement is one way to do it, but certain tech sectors like IT have a long way to go to shed their seemingly negative image. A lot of high-ranking IT specialists that are women can either be found at startups or non-technology companies.

However, investment firms are also attracted to tech companies that have a good number of female executives and employees on board. Illuminate Ventures in the U.S. gets on board with female entrepreneurs because they believe that a good mix of men and women on a team will outperform a team with a significant gender gap. Studies by the National Center for Women & Informaton Technology back up this mentality, showing that tech companies that have a larger number of women executives and managers tend to have a return on investment that is 34% higher than other tech companies.

“Something is going wrong. We have focused on growing the pipeline, and the stereotype that IT is geeky and for boys is shifting for teenagers,” says Karen Price, CEO of e-skills UK. “Girls are seriously interested in a career in IT. We are winning the war on that. But something is getting lost in applying that to the workplace.”

Source: Financial Times

4 thoughts on “Number of “geeky” women professionals dropping dramatically”

  1. I’m always generally concerned when a decline in numbers that reflect a choice are used as the sole evidence for a problem. As though it is required that women choose tech at all. I know plenty of women that love technology, yet want to have absolutely nothing to do with the creation of it. Is this somehow a wrong decision on their part?

    The question shouldn’t be how many women are working in tech, but whether women who want to work in tech have the options and ability to do so. It’s not exactly an easy thing to measure, I admit, and frankly the solutions would likely look very similar (creating a club to show a young girl that being geeky and into tech is ok is functionally similar to creating a club to make those young girls interested).

    That being said, you don’t have to do more than play a video game online or see a girl in a comment thread and watch the reactions to see how males typically respond to the “mythical” female geek to see that there is, at least, some problem. I think a push to get men in tech to stop objectifying women folk and accepting that nerd girls exist, are awesome, and should be welcomed as handy parts of the team would be incredibly valuable.

    Actually, just getting men to respect women in general would be extremely valuable. How’s about we get on that?

    1. “The question shouldn’t be how many women are working in tech, but whether women who want to work in tech have the options and ability to do so. ” 
      Yep. There are few men who want to work in drape design, but where is the outcry over that? No one needs to force a demographic to work somewhere so the statistics look good. We just need to make sure the options are open for anyone who wants to show up. 
      My wife is an engineer, and has worked for three major companies. She worked her butt off to get good grades, and absolutely loves the work. This is what got her the jobs, not her gender. Two of those jobs were in corporate “fast track” programs, where selected individuals are sent to do rotations at different parts of the company in order for them to learn how everything meshes together. She wants to get her hands dirty on the equipment, not sit at a desk doing paperwork and that’s what she gets. 
      She’s called upon by her co-workers for ideas and input. Granted, it’s not “tech” but it’s a similar situation. The Society for Women Engineers has done a great deal of work in terms of presenting young women with the opportunity to visit schools, have after-school and weekend programs where girls get to play with electronics and make little devices. If the above mentioned programs/movements can put the itch in little 9 year old Sally, if they can make her want to write code, test electronics, or even just write about it, then they’re on the right track. 

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