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Where are the Women in Tech?

by Nadine Arnold – 

You’ve heard that companies with women executives at the helm tend to perform better than those led by men— and a new US study furthers that claim, finding that women CEOs in the Fortune 1000 drive three times the returns as S&P 500 enterprises run predominantly by men.

Why then is gender diversity still a major problem for tech companies worldwide?

According to research released this October from Accenture and Girls Who Code there is a significant decline globally in the number of women studying computer science, signaling that the presence of women in the technology sector could fall from 24% today to 22% by 2025 if nothing is done.

The truth is we’re all to blame for the lack of girls leaving school with a desire to work in the technology industry, but the industry could certainly do more to help. As Meta Brown puts it in a column for Forbes, the tech industry has got worse at bringing women into the fold. In the 1960s, nobody left university able to code. Those courses didn’t exist, so tech companies would hire smart people and train them.

They invested in their staff from the get-go. Since there was no need to have a particular background to get into the industry, it attracted a wider range of people, not just in terms of gender but also backgrounds, interests and experiences.

Today, it’s the same people from the same universities who have done the same degrees. This bland recruitment strategy isn’t just bad for gender diversity, it’s bad for innovation. When you have a group of people whose life experiences all echo each other’s, you run the risk of them designing products exclusively for themselves and others like them.

Claiming that there aren’t enough women in tech because there aren’t enough of them taking computer science degrees is just laziness on the behalf of companies. We know that the number of women taking these degrees is falling as they are turned off by the idea of becoming developers.

And it’s not got anything to do with the job itself. It’s a problem that stems from a lack of role models, a culture that’s more boys’ club than gender equality and a lack of interest in innovative hiring from the top of the organisation.

Nearly every month one hears of a new scheme that has been set up to get more women into tech. There are clubs that target young girls and bring role models into schools. There are programmes that retrain stay-at-home mothers, helping them get back into the workplace. And there are numerous groups, networks and roundtables that try to support women already working in the industry. The key point of all these is that they are started and run by women. Occasionally, a few men will turn up to events or step forward to champion a programme that a woman in their organisation has thought up, but they are in the minority and their impact is minimal.

Getting more women into technology faces the same problem that getting equal pay through every industry does: men are scared that it will negatively impact them so they fail to support it. Instead, they behave as all scared humans do and protect their own, whether that’s people of the same gender, or those who went to the same university or who like the same pizza. What nobody talks about is that paying women more hasn’t resulted in men being paid less. There is room for everybody, whether they look like you or not. We just have to open the doors.

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Nadine Arnold is a Team Lead at Vena Solutions, the world's fastest growing cloud-based CPM (Corporate Perfomance Management) software. She is passionate about new technologies, particularly those that impact and develop African economies. Nadine is a member of the Women in Tech community and committed to developing this space in South Africa.

na@gmail.com

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