Females in tech are still bumping up against the glass ceiling

Getting women to go into technology in the first place is one thing, but keeping them there is another

Looking up at the sky through a glass ceiling
Credit: Mark_M CC BY 2.0

It’s no secret that women are underrepresented in tech jobs. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 women made up 28% of database administrators, 20% of programmers and software developers, and just 12% of network architects. The problem, though, isn’t just in recruiting women to technology jobs, it’s keeping them from leaving the industry as they progress in their careers. The solution, according a nonprofit group which works to bring more women into technology, is to promote more women technologists from within.

Last month, the Anita Borg Institute (ABI) released its annual Top Companies for Women Technologists Index, which ranks participating companies based on the representation of women technologists at all levels, from entry level through the executive suite. This year, BNY Mellon topped the list of 35 companies (all voluntary participants with at least 1,000 technology workers) as the best place for women technologists to work. Other companies recognized for their efforts included Apple, eBay, Google, and IBM. The results were based on year-over-year trends from 2013 to 2014.

ABI shared some of additional results of the study results with me. Here are the three big takeaways, as I saw them.

The percentage of tech workers who are woman has remained flat

The companies that ABI looked at had about 435,00 technology workers in total. While the overall number of women technologists increased from 2013 to 2014 by 3,500 workers, the percentage of those workers who are female remained at about 25%, compared to 32% of the overall workforce at participating companies.

Female role models matter

The ABI found that the top performing companies in terms of female representation in tech had about 30% women in those roles, while those at the bottom had percentages in the mid to low teens. Notably, companies with the greatest percentage of women tech executives had more female representation among tech workers at all career levels.

The glass ceiling is still very real for women in tech

ABI found that there was a 50% decline in female representation from entry level tech workers to those in tech executive positions. Women who do choose to enter tech are later choosing to leave it at a rate about twice that of men. This represents “a significant loss of technical talent that the industry can ill afford,” according to Elizabeth Ames, ABI’s VP of Marketing and Strategic Alliances, whom I spoke with via email. “Meritocracy is at the heart of tech’s belief system, but the numbers tell a different story,” Ames said.

As for the reasons women are leaving tech, Ames cited a 2012 study from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on why women leave engineering. According to that study, 30% of women leave over working conditions (low salary, too many hours, no advancement), 27% for work-life balance (not enough time with family, too much travel), 22% didn’t like the work, and 17% cited the organizational climate. “Unconscious bias and working conditions have prevented female technologists from being promoted at the same rate of their male counterparts,” Ames told me. “Women in technical roles constantly run into stereotypes that exclude them and face significant isolation in their jobs.”

While Ames cited the work of the Grace Hopper Celebration, Girls Who Code, and universities like Harvey Mudd for helping to draw more women into tech jobs, she also said that companies should be doing more right now to keep women in the industry, specifically by promoting more of them. ABI’s Top Companies Index, she told me, “prove promoting from the industry’s current talent pool of female technologists can cut down on attrition and encourage a more diverse industry for today and the near future.”

Ames expects a 45% increase in the number of companies participating in next year’s study. We’ll see how many of them take these results and suggestions to heart.

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