Why Women are Leaving the Technology Industry or Not Even Considering It

Written By: Kyler Cheatham
Date: September 8, 2022

In a rapidly digitizing world, the role of women in technology is more important than ever before. Women are playing a vital role in helping businesses keep pace with the latest innovations and trends, and they are also helping to drive the digital transformation of industries across the globe.

The number of women in the tech industry has been on the rise in recent years. Women now make up nearly one-quarter of the tech workforce. This is a significant increase from just a few years ago when women made up only about 15 percent of the tech workforce.

However, despite their essential contributions, women in tech still face significant barriers to success. They are often underrepresented in leadership roles, and they earn less than their male counterparts. They also face unique challenges when it comes to work-life balance, and they are more likely to experience discrimination in the workplace.

As a creative and mother with a career in technology - I am mission-driven to change the traditional conversation around the opportunities in technology and digital strategy. Too often, I hear about the "chilly climate" for women in tech or that "women are leaving the field in droves." This is not my experience. Sure, there are challenges - but there is also a world of possibilities for women who enter the technology workforce.

So what's causing these misperceptions? Like a digital transformation, we must understand the issues before we can address them.

Higher Education

If you follow my content specifically, you know that I am very vocal about the biases in higher education. Many, not all, university programs box students into a focus area of study with a variety of irrelevant prerequisites that create barriers for students. For example, creative or communication-based students are rarely exposed to technology career paths or opportunities.

Higher education does not open the door to women in technology-focused subjects, it slams it shut. Studies have shown that women in technology-focused programs have been on the decline for the past decade. A recent study from Harvard University found that “the number of computer science majors who are women has declined steadily since the early 1990s, falling to 18 percent last year from 37 percent in 1985.”

The data is very clear, the number of women in technology-focused programs is on a steady decline and has been for some time. This is not just happening in the United States, but globally.

There are a variety of reasons for this decline including, but not limited to:

-Lack of early exposure in the classroom

-Discrimination and bias in the classroom

-Lack of role models

-Stereotyping

The good news is, that organizations and individuals are working to change this narrative and offer specialized training instead of the traditional university approach. For example, coding boot camps have become increasingly popular over the past few years as an alternative to university for those interested in a career in technology. These immersive programs are designed to give students the skills they need to be successful in the tech industry in a fraction of the time (and cost) of a four-year degree.

The bottom line is, that if we want to increase the number of women in technology, we need to start early and expose them to opportunities in the field. We also need to provide support and mentorship throughout their journey.

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Redefining Family Dynamics

After the pandemic, women left their jobs in droves. The pandemic has changed the way we work, and it’s also changed the way we live. Women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, as they are more likely to be working in sectors that have been hardest hit by the economic downturn. They are also more likely to be working from home while caring for children or other family members.

The pandemic has forced many women to reevaluate their priorities and consider leaving the workforce altogether. In a recent survey, nearly half of working mothers said they were considering leaving their jobs because of the pandemic. The demands of work and home have always been difficult to balance, but the pandemic has made it even harder.

The pandemic has also changed the way we think about work-life balance. For many women, the traditional 9-5 workday is no longer possible or realistic. They are now working odd hours, weekends, and evenings to manage both their work and home responsibilities.

There is also this issue of lack of affordable and quality childcare. According to a report from the National Women’s Law Center, “the cost of child care has risen twice as fast as wages over the past two decades.” This is a significant burden for families, and it’s disproportionately borne by women.

This is a transformation in itself, and it’s happening all over the world. We must adapt to these new realities and find ways to support women who are struggling to balance work and home life.

We've seen many technology companies move to a full work-from-home model, many of which use to offer affordable childcare. We see schools and daycares closing for quarantine and not reopening. The hard truth is, these places may not come back or they will be different. What does this mean for the future of women in technology?

The pandemic has forced us to redefine what work looks like and how we balance our responsibilities at home and work. For many women, this has been a challenging transition. We must support and uplift these women as they navigate this new landscape while showcasing opportunities to be professionals and parents by leveraging technology.

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Exposure

Overall the technology industry is misunderstood and often perceived as needing hard skills, like coding or engineering. Though these are important abilities for some roles, technology is much more than just coding. Technology companies are made up of many different teams, including but not limited to marketing, sales, customer service, design, and product. The industry needs people with a variety of skill sets, and there are ample opportunities for women with diverse backgrounds.

This issue is, the roles are rarely showcased in the mainstream conversation. Instead, the focus is typically on the hard skills required for certain positions. This lack of exposure creates a self-fulfilling prophecy in which women don’t pursue careers in technology because they don’t see themselves represented.

Coupled with the lack of interoperability in higher education, many young people don't realize that technology needs those communicators, creators, and left-brain thinkers. The solution is two-fold, we need to increase the exposure of women in technology and also make it easier for women to enter the field with the right skills.

The first part of the solution is increased exposure. This can be done in a number of ways, but one way is through storytelling. We need to tell the stories of women who are already in the industry and showcase the different roles available. This will help young women see themselves in the industry and realize that there are many different paths they can take.

The second part of the solution is making it easier for women to enter the field with the right skills. This means working with universities to create programs that better prepare women for careers in technology. It also means working with companies to create internship and apprenticeship programs that give women the opportunity to gain experience in the industry.

Fear

From a hard data perspective and statistically speaking, women make less money and thus have more to lose. Women make less money than men, and they are more likely to live in poverty. In the United States, women make up two-thirds of minimum wage workers. Globally, women are more likely to work in informal sectors and are paid less for their work.

This reality creates a lot of fear for women, and it’s one of the main reasons why they don’t pursue careers in technology. They are afraid of being paid less than their male counterparts, and they are afraid of not being able to provide for themselves or their families.

Another fear that women have is that they will be judged for their appearance or for being a mother. In the tech industry, there is a stereotype that women have to be young and single to be successful. This is not true, but the stereotype persists.

These vulnerabilities are difficult to overcome, but it’s important to remember that they are not insurmountable. Many successful women in technology have overcome these fears and gone on to have thriving careers. We have the power to change the conversation if we are not afraid of having it.

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Creating Change

The technology industry is moving toward, admittedly slowly, change. Companies are starting to realize that they need to diversify their workforce in order to be successful, just like any digital transformation project team. They are also beginning to understand that women can bring a lot of value to the table and that they have a lot to offer.

There are a few things that need to happen for the industry to become more inclusive of women. First, we need to increase exposure and access. Second, we need to address the pay gap. And third, we need to shift or maybe even just nudge the incumbent culture.

This starts with the perception and conversation around technology-based career opportunities. Technology companies, and the industry as a whole, have to do a better job of marketing themselves to women and showing that they are welcoming and inclusive.

They need to show that there are opportunities for everyone, regardless of their background or skill set.

Steps an organization can take to diversify the workforce:

1. Commit to diversity and inclusion

2. Conduct a pay equity analysis

3. Implement unconscious bias training

4. Create an Employee Resource Group for women in tech

5. Host events and programs that focus on introducing women to the industry and demystifying the tech sector

6. Provide mentorship and sponsorship opportunities

7. Increase the number of women in leadership positions

8. Publicly share your commitment to diversity and inclusion on your website and social media channels

9. Measure and track your progress over time through regular organizational assessments

Making the technology industry more inclusive of women is not an overnight fix. It’s going to take time, effort, and dedication. But it is possible, and companies that commit will be better for it in the long run.

Technology is one of the most powerful industries in the world, and women have a lot to offer. It’s time for the industry to catch up and embrace diversity and inclusion. Just like in a digital transformation project, the diversification of ideas optimizes the project for success.

If you'd like to talk more about this important subject, please feel free to reach out to me directly, kyler.cheatham@thirdstage-consulting.com. I'm certainly passionate about lifting the veil on the opportunities within the digital strategy industry that I love so much.

If you are interested in a career in the digital strategy or transformation space, I highly recommend you review our newly released 2023 Digital Transformation Report.

Author:
Kyler Cheatham
Kyler Cheatham is a digital artist and innovator who is always thinking of new ways to improve the world around her. As the Global Marketing Director at Third Stage Consulting, she uses her creativity and tech-savvyness to help businesses reach their target audiences. Kyler is also a thought leader in the digital marketing space, and she loves sharing her knowledge with others. She is also a mother of two young children, which has given her a unique perspective on balancing work and family life.
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