First, the good news. The number of women in tech worldwide has continued to steadily rise in recent years. At the end of 2020, women made up nearly 29% of the tech workforce. And those numbers, according to data from AnitaB.org (a global organization for women technologists), show an increase from 26% in 2019. Slow for sure, but progress is progress right?
Now, the bad news. At this current pace, it will take 12 years before women see equal representation in tech. And if you think that sounds bad, at the current pace, it will take more than 200 years until the economic gender gap is closed. That’s right, pay equality will finally be achieved in the year 2221.
The tech sector is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated many companies efforts to pivot to and ramp up their digital efforts. And with a global talent shortage causing headaches for companies of all sizes, why do women remain so underrepresented in tech?
“It is stupid”
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has said, “[Gender inequality] should shame us all in the 21st century because it is not only unacceptable, it is stupid.”
If you took a moment right now to do an Internet search for “Women in Tech” or some variation of that theme, you might find any number of articles, research papers, social media posts, etc. about the topic. And while several factors are at play, one consistent, unfortunate theme keeps rising to the top...pay disparity.
Yet this happens despite research showing that increasing the inclusion of women is a sound business strategy. A 2020 report by McKinsey & Company found, “That the greater the representation, the higher the likelihood of outperformance. Companies with more than 30 percent women executives were more likely to outperform companies where this percentage ranged from 10 to 30, and in turn, these companies were more likely to outperform those with even fewer women executives or none at all. A substantial differential likelihood of outperformance—48 percent—separates the most from the least gender-diverse companies.”
COVID’s impact and future demand
The business case for gender diversity comes at a time when job growth in the tech space and related ancillary fields is exploding and demand will only increase.
According to a World Economic Forum (WEF) report on the Future of Jobs, the top 20 job roles in increasing and decreasing demand across industries are skewed based on gender. If organizations want to keep up with demand, safeguard their business from being left behind due to talent shortages, and invest in the long-term sustainability of their company, they’d be wise to invest and develop female tech talent from all walks of life.
But as the WEF data shows, jobs with increasing demand are male-dominated, with some roles such as data science or big data specialists being 91% men. Jobs in increasing demand are also highly paid. Yet, the data shows that roles with decreasing demand or those that will be increasingly eliminated are heavily dominated by women. And to make matters worse, by 2025 women will still likely earn just over 60% of their male counterparts.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a devastating impact on women, coined the she-cession. Women are over-represented and lost jobs at a higher rate in many of the sectors most impacted by COVID-19 — e.g., retail, hospitality, entertainment, travel, manufacturing, and more. This means women are far likelier to have lost their livelihood, lost income or experienced a drop in working hours.
The time has come to reverse course
Boosting the ranks of women in tech is a problem in need of a long-term solution. And while that includes developing and growing existing talent within organizations, it also means providing opportunities for girls to pursue STEM fields at younger ages. As Girls Who Code Chief Executive Officer Tarika Barrett recently told The Wall Street Journal, “Our education system is simply not set up to close the gender gap in tech.”
Partnering with organizations such as Girls Who Code and other like-minded groups can help to create a pipeline of talent by promoting and investing in programs to introduce girls to STEM fields. But it’s not just the introduction that’s key. It’s retention. Getting them interested early and keeping them interested as they progress in their educational career will help avoid the pitfalls of feeling behind and quitting early to pursue something else. We often hear about the benefits of teaching children foreign languages at younger ages. Research also shows the same principle should apply to tech and computer science courses. This will ensure that girls will not be left behind in an industry that will be an economic driver for many years to come.
Additionally, as the COVID pandemic showed, working remotely can be done successfully. Flexibility can play an important part in opening up more opportunities for women, especially for those who are trying to balance career and family responsibilities at the same time. Embracing this level of flexible work can also help organizations tap into desperately needed talent pools while opening up new segments of the labor market to qualified, skilled women.
There is no one size fits all solution to this problem. But what we can’t do is sit idly by and wait 12 years for women to get equal representation in tech. And we certainly cannot be content with waiting two centuries for the economic gender gap to achieve balance. The time for action is now. And by taking action, organizations not only can be working to solve their own labor shortages, they’ll can also be building a talent pipeline for years to come.