(WOMENSENEWS)—Looking for a more secure career path? You may want to turn to the tech industry.
It’s estimated that there will be 1.4 million jobs available in computer science in the U.S. alone by 2020, according to Girls Who Code, but we’ll only have enough qualified college graduates to fill 29 percent of those available jobs.
However, women won’t be the ones mostly benefiting from these opportunities. Of those college graduates, only 3 percent will be women.
The tech industry has had consistent problems attracting female employees, not to mention retaining them and promoting them to executive and C-suite positions. Women make up 47 percent of the American workforce, yet only a small percentage go into the computer science field. Why haven’t we figured out how to better tap into the enormous female workforce for computer science jobs?
While there’s much to be done to encourage more women to enter—and stay—in the tech industry, improving this gender disparity is not only beneficial for women, but also for a company’s bottom line and employees.
Deterred Along the Way
The sad reality about girls and women in tech is that we know they are interested in computer science, but somewhere along the way, they are deterred either before selecting a computer science program or after a few years as part of the tech workforce. Of the women who do complete a computer science degree, 56 percent end up quitting their tech jobs at the height of their career, according to the National Center for Women & Information. That’s twice the rate of men.
For the women who stay in the industry, their numbers decrease as you move up the ranks in tech companies. In Silicon Valley, only 11 percent of executive positions and 9 percent of CEO positions are held by women.
But what if there were more women in tech, particularly in these high-level positions? So far, the data has shown that female-led companies generate a higher return on investment in invested capital, equity, sales and earnings. Fortune 500 companies who had at least three female directors saw increases of 53 percent return on equity, 42 percent return on sales and 66 percent return on invested capital.
Apart from the hard numbers, employees of female leaders feel that women make better leaders in 12 of 16 core leadership competencies, including initiative, self-development, integrity and drive for results, as reported by a Harvard Business review survey. So installing more women in leadership positions could not only help the bottom line, but could also be better for encouraging employee development (particularly for women) and decreasing employee turnover.
The good news is there are tools out there to help boost the participation of women and girls in tech. For young girls, more programs are starting to become available to encourage studies in computer science at an early age. Some popular ones include Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, Girls Learning Code and Code.org.
Women also cite having a female mentor in the tech field as one of the best resources as they progress through their careers. However, given the state of women in tech, women have found it hard to find a mentor within their own organization. That’s why some programs have partnered with companies to create mentorship programs. This is exactly what Girls Who Code did in partnership with Intuit and Jack Dorsey of Twitter, for example.
Going beyond what already exists for women, we must also look at state and federal policies to mandate quotas for the percentage of women who hold board or executive positions. Strategies like this are heavily debated, but they have worked in countries like Norway. Some states, like California, are talking about instating this kind of quota system in 2020.
Innovative maternity leave policies will also help women in tech and other fields feel that they won’t be penalized for having a child or like they need to make a decision between work and family. Companies don’t need to wait for state or federal governments to make mandates on quotas or maternity leave. They can lead the charge and find the best ways to encourage growth and equality for women in the workplace.
Damaging company culture, which includes underlying biases and condescension from male colleagues and superiors, also needs to change to encourage women to enter and stay in the tech field. Tech companies must invest in manager training to deal specifically with gender issues and tackle bias head on within their teams. Managers should install open-communication policies to help men and women understand the gender biases that exist within the company and on the team to help women feel heard.
The tech industry recognizes there is a gender disparity and is taking some measures to fix it, but it’s also up to women to step up and explore these careers. There’s much more to be done and it won’t be easy, but technology is synonymous with businesses and women can’t be left out.