It’s an ongoing concern for many business leaders and HR professionals that the number of women in high tech professions remains far lower than the number of men. According to Roger Cheng in his CNET article “Women in tech: The numbers don’t add up,” in 2015, women made up 59 percent of the U.S. labor force, yet the average percentage of women at the major tech companies—including Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft— was just under 30 percent. And guess how many of those women were in technical positions? Just over 15 percent. Clearly, despite companies’ commitment to diversity, the actual participation of women in high tech professions remains woefully low. Though we have seen some recent traction with organizations such as Intel who have improved their diversity hiring ratios through investment and structured approach.
The case for hiring more women
A 2015 study by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) titled “What Is the Impact of Gender Diversity on Technology Business Performance?” reported that companies that were “gender balanced” performed better financially and demonstrated superior productivity, team dynamics, and employee performance than those that weren’t. It also found that they produced teams that remained on schedule and often under budget.
Additionally, in recent years, there have been reports indicating that greater gender diversity at the executive level would result in an improved bottom line. That’s now been confirmed by a study released in February 2016 by the Peterson Institute for International Economics titled “Is Gender Diversity Profitable? Evidence from a Global Survey.” The report stated that almost 60 percent of companies didn’t have any female board members and more than half didn’t have any female executives. However, it concluded that if companies without female executives were to increase the share of women in executive positions from 0 to 30 percent, they could expect a 15 percent rise in profitability. Moreover, it’s interesting to note that Cheng also reported in his CNET article that women made up 22.5 percent of all leadership positions at the leading tech companies. Clearly, the report’s findings are correct.
What are the obstacles for women?
So why, if studies and statistics and hard numbers show that having a more gender-inclusive workforce is beneficial both in terms of performance and financial gain, aren’t there more women in high tech?
The jury still seems to be out on this question. More and more companies commit to hiring a more diverse slate of employees. Public and private organizations alike invest in encouraging girls to take STEM subjects at school and going on to earn a STEM degree. Yet the real numbers aren’t improving: female high tech workers are few and far between.
Employers that truly want to commit to creating a gender-balanced workforce will have to determine what the obstacles are for women entering and staying in the high tech field. Perhaps the solution involves providing better guidance in schools. Perhaps young women need to see more female role models in high tech positions. Maybe employers need to establish mentoring programs to help women navigate their career paths.
Most likely, the answer is a combination of all of the above. But one thing is clear: high tech companies that want to remain competitive need to develop effective strategies for attracting and retaining women. And the sooner they do it, the better.