Optimism vs. Reality: 5 Facts About Gender Diversity in Tech

In our recent 2015 CTS Tech Industry Survey, we received significant data from women currently working in IT and computer science. We were a little surprised by the level of optimism expressed by many of our female respondents, as the national conversation about women working in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) careers is still largely dominated by the diversity challenges and inequalities present in these industries.

In particular, our study's female respondents were quite positive when it came to questions about sustained employment and compensation. But, is this optimism warranted? Have all of the initiatives, studies and employment panels dedicated to improving the quantity of women in STEM careers, as well as the quality of their experience in these jobs, actually had an impact?

We decided to look at the current trends to see if they support the optimistic outlook of our female survey participants. Here are five key facts we uncovered in our research.

#1 Women are still hesitant to enter tech industries

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) created a comprehensive report in 2013 on the nation's labor force characteristics. Here are some of the data points according to this report, which accounted for 67.6 million employed women in the nation:

  • Only 1.5% held jobs in computer and mathematical occupations versus 3.9% of men
  • Only 0.6% held jobs in architecture and engineering occupations versus 3.2% of men
  • Only 0.9% held jobs in life, physical, and social science occupations versus 0.9% of men

By any standard of historical improvement, these are still horrible numbers. And, there is little evidence to show these numbers are improving in any significant way. In fact, according to Computer World UK, the number of women choosing to study computer science in university has actually decreased over the last five years.

Some of this discrepancy is possibly related to the lack of female role models and mentors in U.S. secondary schools. The American Institute of Biological Science has reported that only 1-in-5 STEM faculty members in U.S. universities are women. There are a number of non-governmental organizations, such as Girls Who Code and Change the Equation, who've identified this gap in role models and are addressing it through direct outreach at the high school-level, but there's still a lot of work to be done to convince more prospective students to pursue those computer science degrees.

#2 Tech companies are still dominated by male leadership

In spite of the corporate diversity initiatives promoted by numerous U.S. corporations this decade, very little change is being realized. The recent study "Women in the Workplace 2015" by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co. reviewed over a hundred companies and 30,000 employees and concluded that, "women are still underrepresented at every level in the corporate pipeline."

The study found that from 2012 to 2015:

  • Percentage of women in C-level executive positions has only increased by 1%
  • Women in Senior Vice President positions has only increased by 3%
  • Women in Vice President positions has only increased by 4%

These underwhelming advances persist in spite of large corporations promoting some form of diversity policy in their annual reports and hiring sites.

This discrepancy appears to be even more pronounced in Silicon Valley, the center of high tech and science companies. The report "Gender Diversity in Silicon Valley" by Fenwick & West LLP compared S&P 100 companies with a representative grouping of Silicon Valley firms called the SV 150.

In 2013, 84 percent of S&P 100 companies had at least one female executive officer: only 54 percent of SV 150 companies could say the same. When it came to having a female CTO or other top technology/engineering/R&D executive, both sets of companies were abysmal. Only 10 percent of S&P 100 firms and 5 percent of SV 150 companies reported having such an employee.

#3 Many tech employers still have gender-based pay inequality

You've seen or heard this fact before: US women make 77 cents compared to every dollar a man makes. This gender-based income gap is just as prevalent in the STEM-based workforce.

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) performed an analysis of 2011 US Census Bureau data, and confirmed that women in STEM jobs regularly made less money than their male peers. Here are some examples from the group's research, comparing approximate median annual earnings for women and men holding the same job role:

  • Computer/IS manager -- $98,000 for men vs. $86,000 for women
  • Aerospace engineer -- $100,000 for men vs. $83,000 for women
  • Engineering technician -- $56,000 for men vs. $43,000 for women
  • Draftsperson -- $51,000 for men vs. $45,000 for women

Even the White House has acknowledged the wage gap for women in STEM careers, although they do their best to play down the issue with language like the following:

"Women in STEM jobs… experience a smaller wage gap relative to men."

Basically, there's still pay inequality in STEM industries, but it's better than in other jobs.

#4 Women in tech careers still pay the "motherhood penalty"

While tech companies like to advertise their progressive employment policies and perks, things like free meals, onsite daycare, and flex schedules, many women who choose to have children still pay what has been referred to as the "motherhood penalty" in the form of reduced wages and opportunities for advancement. This trend is exacerbated by evidence that the exact opposite is true for new fathers.

Sociology professor Michelle Budig explains the motherhood penalty this way:

"Employers read fathers as more stable and committed to their work; they have a family to provide for, so they are less likely to be flaky. That is the opposite of how parenthood by women is interpreted by employers. The conventional story is they work less and they're more distracted when on the job."

In one study, Budig discovered that men's earnings increased over 6 percent when they became parents, while women's earnings declined 4 percent for every child they had.

Sociologist Shelley J. Correll conducted a study in which fake resumes were sent to hundreds of companies. The resumes were all the same with the exception that some listed information suggesting the applicant was a parent. The results: mothers were half as likely to be called back as other applicants. Companies rated fathers as the most desirable, followed by childless women, childless men and finally mothers.

#5 Women who choose tech careers are choosing to leave them

Researchers at the University of Texas-Austin and Cornell University conducted a study into the shortage of women in STEM fields. While the study confirmed there are gender barriers for women who wish to enter STEM, the key finding was the shortage of women in STEM isn't an issue with supply:

"...our work indicates that a substantial proportion of women who are trained in STEM, and begin working in STEM jobs, rapidly exit such jobs."

The study goes on to stress that this trend is not primarily due to women starting families. "We don't find support for the idea that women are opting out of the labor force to remain home with children… because exits from the STEM work force tend to occur before women have begun their marital and childbearing histories."

Given that STEM has proven to be yet another set of industries featuring pay inequality for women, penalties for mothers, and slim chances for advancement into male-dominated senior leadership roles, it's no surprise that the retention of career women in STEM has been highly compromised.

What's With The Optimism Then?

There are a number of potential reasons for the continued optimism among our survey respondents. As mentioned previously, the wage gap between genders is smaller than in other industries. That's faint praise, but not insignificant. There's been a recent upswing in the amount of media coverage of women reaching top roles in tech, such as Yahoo! CEO Marissa Meyer, Facebook Chief Operations Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman. Additionally, it could be that perspectives on the industry lean more positively among people who are already employed there.

As a discipline, technology sways toward optimism. Central to tech is a view that one can innovate their way out of a problem with the right talent. While the industry has made strides in the right direction, it's clear that tech companies as well as high school and university-level computer science programs may need to make more of an effort to innovate past these issues.


"Three reasons the wage gap hurts women in STEM," AAUW, April 5, 2013, http://www.aauw.org/2013/04/05/three-reasons-the-wage-gap-hurts-women-in-stem/

"Women in STEM," White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, https://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/women

"Why we're still so far behind on gender equality at work," Fast Company, September 30, 2015, http://www.fastcompany.com/3051771/strong-female-lead/why-were-still-so-far-behind-on-gender-equality-at-work

"A successful intervention boosts the gender diversity of STEM faculty," EurekAlert, October 14, 2015, http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-10/aiob-asi100915.php

"The Motherhood Penalty vs. the Fatherhood Bonus," The New York Times, September 6, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/07/upshot/a-child-helps-your-career-if-youre-a-man.html?_r=1

"Gender barriers, not families, to blame for shortage of women in science, technology, engineering and math careers," Science Daily, October 7, 2013, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131007151635.htm

"How the Gender Wage Gap Makes the Retirement Savings Crisis Worse," Fast Company, http://www.fastcompany.com/3052525/the-gender-wage-gap-isnt-the-only-one-that-needs-closing

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