Diversity is critical to IT performance. Diverse teams perform better, hire better talent, have more engaged members, and retain workers better than those that do not focus on diversity and inclusion, according to a 2020 report from McKinsey. Despite this, women remain widely underrepresented in IT roles.
And the numbers back up this assertion, often in stark ways. Lack of representation for women in the IT industry can be attributed to a wide array of often interrelated factors, and its persistence has follow-on effects in terms of compensation, opportunity, and safety in the workplace. Companies that emphasize equity and inclusion, however, are making inroads when it comes to promoting the careers of women — and retaining them.
Statistics from the following 11 facets of IT careers, from pursuing a degree to navigating the workplace environment, paint a clear picture of the challenges women face in finding equal footing in a career in IT.
The employment gap
Despite national conversations about the lack of diversity in tech, women are disproportionally missing out on the ongoing boom in IT jobs. While women make up 47% of all employed adults in the US, as of 2022, they hold only 28% of computing and mathematical roles, according to data from Zippia, with women identifying as Asian or Pacific Islander making up just 7% of the IT workforce and Black and Hispanic women accounting for 3% and 2%, respectively.
In fact, the ratio of women to men in tech roles has declined in the past 35 years, with half of women who go into tech dropping out by the age of 35, according to data from Accenture. The study attributes much of this decline to a lack of inclusivity for women in the industry. For women of color and lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LBT) women, this lack of inclusivity plays an even larger factor. For example, 67% of women of color in less-inclusive college environments said they saw a “clear pathway from studying tech, engineering, or math to a related career,” compared to 79% of other women. When adjusted for more inclusive environments, that number jumps to 92%.
The promotion gap
Women also face more barriers to promotion and career growth. A 2022 report from McKinsey found that only 86 women are promoted to manager for every 100 men across every industry, but when isolated for tech, that number drops to 52 women for every 100 men. Women who work in more inclusive environments are 61% more likely to advance to management level, while that number jumps to 77% for women of color, according to data from Accenture. Men are even 15% more likely to get promoted to a management position when working in a more-inclusive environment.
The degree gap
According to data from the National Science Foundation, more women than ever are earning STEM degrees — and they are catching up to men in earning bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering (S&E) subjects. But isolated by field of study, women earned only 18% of computer science degrees at the bachelor level in 2021, having peaked at 37% in 1984, according to Zippia. Recent data from Accenture shows that as of 2022, only 25% of tech graduates are women, with a dropout rate of 37% for tech classes compared to just 30% for other programs.
Still, while women are less represented in undergrad CS departments, those who do pursue computer science degrees are more likely to pursue an advanced degree, with the percentage of master’s degrees in computer science earned by women rising to 31% in 2016, up from 28% in 1997.
The retention gap
Once a diploma is earned, the real work begins, and here the numbers for women in tech are even more troubling. Only 38% of women who majored in computer science are working in the field compared to 53% of men, according to data from the National Science Foundation. This is a consistent trend that has been dubbed a “leaky pipeline,” where it’s difficult to retain women in STEM jobs once they’ve graduated with a STEM degree.
Oftentimes, retention is a factor of workplace culture and inclusivity. It’s one thing to recruit women for IT roles, but organizations must be inclusive to get women to stay. Unfortunately, leaders and employees differing widely in how they perceive a company’s inclusivity, according to Accenture, which reported that 68% of leaders feel they have created “empowering environments where people have a sense of belonging,” while only 36% of employees agree. Accenture estimates that if every company were on par with the top 20% of companies in the study in terms of inclusivity, the annual attrition rate of women in tech could drop as much as 70%.
Workplace culture gap
Workplace culture also plays a role in women’s uphill battle in IT. According to a Pew Research Center report, 50% of women said they had experienced gender discrimination at work, while only 19% of men said the same. The numbers were even higher for women with a postgraduate degree (62%), working in computer jobs (74%), or in male-dominated workplaces (78%). When asked whether their gender made it harder to succeed at work, 20% of women said yes and 36% said sexual harassment is a problem in their workplace.
In addition to increasing the likelihood of gender-related discrimination against women, male-dominated workplaces pay less attention to gender diversity (43%) and cause women to feel a need to prove themselves all or some of the time (79%), according to Pew’s research. As a comparison, only 44% of women working in environments with a better gender-diversity balance said they experienced gender-related discrimination at work, 15% felt their organization paid “too little” attention to gender diversity, and 52% said they felt a need to prove themselves.
The representation gap
A lack of representation for women in tech can hinder a woman’s ability to succeed in the industry. It can put limits on their opportunities for mentorship and sponsorship and can foster “unconscious gender bias in company culture,” leaving many women “without a clear path forward,” according to a report from TrustRadius, which found that 72% of women in tech report being outnumbered by men in business meetings by a ratio of at least 2:1, while 26% report being outnumbered by 5:1 or more.
Unfortunately, women in tech are accustomed to a lack of representation — 72% of whom said they have worked for a company where “bro culture” is “pervasive,” while only 41% of men said the same. TrustRadius defines “bro culture” broadly as anything from an “uncomfortable work environment to sexual harassment and assault.” This gap in reporting between genders may in part be due to a discrepancy in perception, according to the report, which notes that it “can be hard for those in power, or those not negatively affected, to recognize problems within the dominant culture.”
The equity gap
Women of color face more significant challenges in the tech industry — and they are greatly underrepresented. While a total of 27% of computing roles are held by women, only 3% and 2% are held by Black and Hispanic women, respectively, according to Accenture. Out of 390 women of color in tech surveyed, only 8% said it is “easy” for them to thrive, compared to 21% of all women. In less-inclusive company cultures, 62% of women of color say they’ve experienced “inappropriate remarks or comments,” a number that drops to 14% for inclusive cultures.
LBT women face similar barriers, with only 9% of LBT women IT workers reporting that it’s “easy” to thrive in tech, while 23% of non-LBT women say the same. LBT tech workers also face higher rates of experiencing public humiliation or embarrassment (24%) or bullying (20%) in the workplace. The survey found that 83% of LBT women working in more-inclusive cultures reported “loving” their jobs and 85% describe their workplace environment as “empowering,” compared to 35% and 20%, respectively, in less-inclusive environments. Similarly, LBT women in less-inclusive cultures were half as likely to say they experienced inappropriate remarks or comments, were made to feel that the job was not for “people like them.”
The founder gap
Startups are known for unconventional work environments, but women still struggle there — especially if they’re the founder. Only one in four startups have a female founder, 37% have at least one woman on the board of directors, and 53% have at least one woman in an executive position, according to a study from Silicon Valley Bank. And the founder’s gender has a direct impact on gender diversity, the study found. For startups with at least one female founder, 50% had a female CEO compared to just 5% for companies with no female founder.
Worse, startups with at least one female founder reported more difficulty finding funding, with 87% saying it was “somewhat or extremely challenging,” while only 78% of startups with no female founder said the same.
The pay gap
Women are not only underrepresented in tech, they are also underpaid. According to a report from Dice, 38% of women report being unsatisfied with their compensation compared to 33% of men. The average salary of a woman in tech who reports being satisfied with their compensation is $93,591, compared to an average $108,711 for men. On the opposite end, the average salary for women who report being dissatisfied with their compensation is $69,543, compared to $81,820 for men.
Women are also more concerned with compensation than most stereotypes would have you believe, according to a 2019 report on Women in Technology from IDC. There’s a myth that women are more preoccupied with benefits and flexibility, but 52% of women care about compensation and pay compared to 33% of men. Additionally, 75% of men believe their employer offers equal pay while only 42% of women say the same. Compensation is certainly a paramount concern for women in tech, who are often making less than their male colleagues.
The IT leadership gap
According to IDC, the percentage of women in senior leadership positions grew from 21% to 24% between 2018 and 2019. And that’s good news, because having women in senior leadership positions can positively impact female employee engagement and retention. In organizations where 50% or more senior leadership positions are held by women, they’re more likely to offer equal pay, and female employees are more likely to stay with the company longer than a year, report higher job satisfaction, and feel the company is trustworthy.
Although these statistics are trending upward, women still feel less enthusiastic about their senior leadership prospects than men. The report found that 54% of men said they felt it was likely that they’d be promoted to executive management in their company. Meanwhile, only 25% of women said the same, noting a lack of support, self-confidence, and mentorship, as well as feeling the need to “prove themselves more than men to get promoted.”
McKinsey found that women leaders are stepping away from their roles in tech to find positions that offer better flexibility and opportunity. The report points to the fact that women find it harder to advance than men and that they’re more likely to experience microaggressions or to have their judgement questioned. Women leaders also reported carrying more responsibilities around supporting employee well-being and inclusion, but 40% say they go unrecognized for that work.
Black women leaders face even more barriers to leadership. They are more likely to have their competence questioned by colleagues (55%), or to be “subjected to demeaning behavior.” One in three Black women leaders report being denied or passed over for opportunities because of their race and gender.
The pandemic gap
Women in tech report facing more burnout than their male colleagues during the pandemic. According to TrustRadius, 57% of women surveyed said they experienced more burnout than normal during the pandemic, compared to 36% of men who said the same. That might be because 44% of women also report taking on extra responsibilities at work, compared to 33% of men. And a greater number of women (33%) report taking on more childcare responsibilities than men (19%) at home. Women in tech were also almost twice as likely to have lost their jobs or to have been furloughed during the pandemic than men (14% vs. 8%).
The pandemic has also left women less likely to ask for a raise or a promotion, compared to their male colleagues. In a report from Indeed, surveying 2,000 tech workers, 67% of male respondents said they would be comfortable asking for a raise in the next month and for a promotion. But only 52% of women said they’d be comfortable asking for a raise and 54% said they’d be comfortable asking for a promotion. Women were also less likely to say they felt comfortable asking for flexibility around work location, schedule, or hours than their male counterparts. As the study points out, if women feel discouraged from asking for a raise, while their male colleagues are comfortable doing so, that could lead to widening the gender pay gap in the tech industry even more.
This article was originally published on January 23, 2020, and updated on March 8, 2021.
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