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Women in tech statistics: The latest research and trends

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Women are an evergrowing part of the tech landscape, but inequality in pay and opportunities persists.

Some issues are systemic; in education, there’s a gap in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees, while in business, workplace culture issues accompany ongoing pay inequality.

This article also details some of the key challenges and success stories of women in the tech workplace, including several successful female CEOs and other women-led companies.

Women in tech statistics and trends

Here’s a short list of some of the biggest issues facing women in tech:

Gaps in STEM degrees

Opportunities in tech begin with education. Though women outperform men academically on average, there is a big disparity between the college degrees earned by men and women in STEM. At the undergraduate level in the United States, women’s participation in science and engineering (S&E) depends on the specific field of study. According to a National Science Foundation report, women earned 24% of engineering bachelor’s degrees in 2021. That number was 22% in computer and information sciences. However, a 2024 report by The National Girls Collaborative Project found women earned 50% of all S&E degrees in the U.S.

Globally, according to World Bank data, 107 of 114 economies had fewer female STEM graduates than males, and 18% of women chose STEM subjects for their post-secondary education, compared to 35% of men.

Employment gaps

Women are a clear minority in the STEM workforce — in stark contrast to non-STEM jobs where women represent close to half the workforce. That said, U.S. Census data shows significant gains from 8% of STEM workers in 1970 to 27% in 2019.

A study by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from July 2022 found that women were 40% less likely to work in engineering, while 33% were more likely to work in math and over 90% more likely to work in science than in technology sector jobs.

Among women who do pursue a career in STEM, 61% work in fields related to social sciences, while only 15% are in engineering jobs.

There is evidence of change and opportunity for women pursuing a career in STEM across industry segments. Many companies created and continue to contribute to educational programs designed to help more women pursue a career in STEM. Government agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA) are on board, too.

“We have a lot of strong women leaders here. But I think we face the same challenges that any organization does, especially a predominantly military organization, where we’re still working through the balance of women being visible and at the table,” said Kristina Walter, director of the NSA’s Future-Ready Workforce Initiative, in a roundtable discussion on the issue. “And I think what we found is we need to be inclusive of that environment. Women have a lot to offer in that space.”

Walter also noted her group met or exceeded its goal for the last several years to hire 40% women. She said the agency recognizes hiring people from across different segments of society better reflects the American people the NSA serves. Another speaker added that the NSA’s Cybersecurity Collaboration Center is more than 55% female.

Successful organizations of all kinds are recognizing the importance of workplace diversity, particularly in tech.

“People tend to be motivated by what impacts them, and if no one is working on those problems they won’t get solved,” said Laura Yecies, CEO of Bone Health Technologies, which works to prevent osteoporosis, a disease that overwhelmingly affects women.

Race and ethnicity

In addition to gender discrimination and inequality, the technology industry faces disparity in racial and ethnic hiring. For example, African Americans make up 13% to 14% of the total U.S. population, but 6% to 9% of the total workforce in STEM fields. African American women are only 2% of scientists and engineers in the United States, according to the National Science Foundation.

The federal government’s “Diversity and STEM: Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities” 2023 report suggests women, and Hispanics in particular, have made significant progress over the past decade, both in terms of increased representation in the STEM workforce and their participation in higher education. However, those broad patterns are not universal across all STEM occupations and fields of study.

For example, women are a much smaller proportion of the college-educated workforce in computer and mathematical sciences, biological sciences, physical sciences and engineering than in the social sciences. Separately, underrepresented minorities make up a third of the workforce in STEM jobs that typically do not require a college degree for entry. However, those jobs tend to have the lowest salaries and highest unemployment in STEM.

About 3% of the STEM workforce are people with disabilities. Although the number of STEM workers with at least one disability increased since 2011, their representation in the STEM workforce has remained unchanged from a decade ago.

To many forward-thinking leaders, diversity in a team doesn’t just happen by chance. It requires a proactive effort on the part of the organization.

“I think of it like going to the gym. The investment compounds over time, and you get stronger and better,” said Eden Full Goh, founder and CEO of Mobot, a robotics testing platform for mobile apps. “Prioritizing diversity is a key exercise to building organizational health.”

Retention gaps

While the tech industry struggles to attract more women, it also struggles to retain them. One issue is the disparity in promotions. A McKinsey/LeanIn.org study found that 86 women are promoted to manager for every 100 men at the same level, but for technical roles, the study found only 52 women are promoted to manager for every 100 men.

In its “Women in the Workplace” 2021 study, McKinsey explored the barriers women in tech face. One key finding: Women are not promoted as much as men early in their careers, a building block to success. In this case, women held only 26% of first-level manager positions.

The study recommended that companies offer women in tech more opportunities to develop a wider range of skills, as well as structured guidance on professional development.

In an S&P Global Women in Technology report, 57% of women respondents said work-life balance features such as flexible work hours and remote work options increased job satisfaction. Flexibility was a top priority for women in tech across the board — not just those with children at home.

Yecies of Bone Health Technologies said the tech industry must do more to help women identify opportunities for them to thrive.

“Women enjoy solving problems, and that’s what engineers do,” she said. “A lot of us want to improve the world and have a positive effect on people by things like solving climate problems and building robots for the mobility impaired. I think if you focus on those elements of the impact you can have, it will tend to draw more women.”

Workplace culture issues

A company’s culture affects not only employee performance but who is hired. Even the language used in job descriptions can stop a potential applicant from applying in the first place. To combat this, businesses must make every effort to identify and remove bias from job descriptions and ensure the hiring process includes interviews with multiple team members of different genders.

One survey of women in tech showed that slightly more than half report gender inequality, discrimination or sexual harassment in male-dominated environments.

To address gender inequality, businesses must embed diversity and inclusion into company culture from day one. One way businesses do this is by hiring female leaders early in their inception. Women who see female role models in senior positions also see an organization that values diversity.

Another issue is visibility. Women are often tasked with “invisible work” — such as day-to-day tasks that maintain the status quo — and earn credit for being diligent, but not strategic. Businesses need to ensure everyone has equal access to strategic projects.

In a WeAreTechWomen survey, 75% of women said that at least some men in their organizations were not allies. About two-thirds of those surveyed mentioned “talking over” and “not listening to them” as the main reason for their response. On the flip side, 19% said they see all or most men as allies and most of those said that men’s willingness to give credit for achievements was the best way for men to become allies.

Lack of women’s representation

Women are in the minority in the tech industry, from the general workforce through management and leadership roles.

Take Zippia’s example of the 325,000 software engineers in the U.S.; nearly half, 48.5%, are white. Only 8.1% are Latino or Hispanic, while 4.4% are Black. Little more than one in five — 22% — are women, and 8% are LGBT.

In recent years, groups such as Latinas in Tech have formed to help support opportunities for minorities in tech careers. There’s also Black Women Talk Tech, which sponsors events and offers other resources including job boards. BWTT said it’s the largest collective of Black women tech founders including 500 startups.

Leila Powell, Ph.D., had a love of science growing up and her parents supported her decision to pursue a career in astrophysics where she used supercomputers to study the evolution of galaxies. Later, she transitioned to cybersecurity and is currently the lead security data scientist at Panaseer. “For me, it’s always been about having an impact and solving hard problems. I’m also passionate about increased representation in tech and related fields. The percentage of women in senior roles is not representative of their ability to do those roles and I want to help with that and make sure there is a level playing field; we’re not there yet,” Powell said.

Among other efforts, Powell co-founded a networking group called We Empower Diverse Startups. Powell stated, “Tech is so critical, so important to our lives that you can’t have 50% of society, women, left out.”

Read more here on how diversity hinges on root-cause analysis.

Pay gaps for women in tech

Hired.com has been tracking gender disparity in pay among tech workers for several years and hasn’t seen much improvement. In 2017 and 2018, the company found that men were offered higher salaries than women 63% of the time. In 2019 the gap narrowed a bit to 60% but returned to 63% in 2020.

A recent 10-year study showed women employed in computer science jobs earned about 86.6 cents for every dollar that men earned, which is an improvement on the overall labor force average of 82 cents, but nowhere near equal.

Men mostly hold top-level tech positions like CIO and CTO. In late 2022, Zippia reported that women account for only 18% of the CIO and chief technical officer roles in 1,000 of the largest U.S. tech companies, while 19% of senior vice presidents and 15% of CEOs in the tech industry are women.

Why AI is an opportunity for women in tech

Still, experts insist AI’s growing impact on society promises to be a golden opportunity for women to enter and excel in the tech field.

As one example, Jodi Baxter, vice president of 5G and IoT connectivity at Telus Communications, said AI gives women the chance to use their interpersonal and communication skills for training AI without biases. She added these soft skills are at least as important as technology skills to create better outcomes in AI models.

AI also threatens to eliminate some jobs and curtail the importance of others, but Baxter said women can limit those disruptions by embracing generative AI. She also noted that organizations are responsible for providing diverse sets of information to avoid bias, especially gender bias, in human-made AI models.

Significantly, women already hold many positions leading the AI charge, including those in human resources, educational leadership, change management and ethical AI governance.

An IBM blog post details how numerous women have already made significant contributions to AI development, responsible innovation and ethics. These include Kay Firth Butterfield, the world’s first chief AI ethics officer; Elham Tabassi of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, spearheading initiatives on ethical AI standards; Miriam Vogel from EqualAI and NAIAC, championing AI equality; Paula Goldman from Salesforce; and Navrina Singh from Credo AI. Another key leader is Fei-Fei Li from Stanford’s Human-Centered AI Institute, well known for her contributions to AI image recognition and advocacy for inclusive and ethical AI development.

The history of women in technology

Women have played a key role in advancing technology and computer science since its creation. For example, computer pioneer Grace Hopper devised the theory of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the creation of COBOL — an early high-level programming language still in use today. Actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr filed a patent for frequency-hopping technology in 1941 — a precursor to Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth connectivity technologies now used by billions worldwide.

As author Marguerite Zientara wrote in her 1987 book, Women, Technology and Power: Ten Stars and the History They Made, the rise of personal computers in the 1980s and the dawn of the Internet Age a decade later featured women gaining powerful positions in the tech industry, including IBM executive Joyce Wrenn and Open Systems co-founder Ann Winblad. While their companies differed greatly, these women shared the basic characteristics of determination, a belief in themselves, high energy levels and a willingness to work hard.

While female CEOs, executives and managers remain a minority at tech firms, there’s been progress and high-profile success stories. Overall, the share of female CEOs among Fortune 500 companies reached an all-time high of 10.4% in 2023, and a quarter of those 52 leaders became CEOs in the last year, including many in tech.

Today’s tech leaders — many are women

Among the most high-profile examples of female tech leaders are Safra Catz, CEO of tech giant Oracle; and Lisa Su, the CEO of chip company AMD and the person widely credited with the company’s turnaround success these past several years.

Other leaders include Anne Wojcicki, the co-founder and CEO of personal genomics site 23andMe; and her co-founder, biologist Linda Avey. Then there’s Melanie Perkins, the Australian co-founder of Canva, a graphic design platform with more than 55 million users worldwide.

Twins Anna and Kerry Wang are part of a new generation of female tech leaders whose school opportunities encouraged the pursuit of a variety of interests. Anna said she remembers taking her first coding class as a 13-year-old at a public high school, a summer program that taught Java.

“I fell in love with how [computer science] is the manifestation of problem-solving,” she said. “I spent many afternoons that summer just banging on the keyboard, working through algorithms.”

The Wang sisters, whose Ph.D.-holding parents place a high value on STEM education, are co-founders of Searchlight.ai, an AI-powered talent evaluation platform built on a “bias-free” AI engine. It’s designed to understand competencies, soft skills, working styles and job requirements. The company recently announced its acquisition by Multiverse, which will integrate the technology into its services.

Kerry said the increasing number of female tech leaders promises a positive trickle-down effect, both in modeling a path forward to leadership and as mentors to future leaders.

Anna said they quickly learned to tell their value proposition story while pitching to investors for venture capital funding as a startup.

“You learn to put yourself out there,” she added, “And you have to have an almost unreasonable faith in yourself to see it pay off.”

How to create a future for women in tech

As the tech industry booms along, the hope is that opportunities continue to grow for everyone, including women who often don’t have as broad a network in the male-dominated industry.

Here are some ways to open doors for women in tech and help them to advance their careers:

  • Provide STEM education at an early age. Traditionally, women have gravitated toward liberal arts degrees. Girls must be made aware the door to the sciences is open by offering them STEM education opportunities.
  • Mentoring. Mentorship is a pillar of support. This can be via professional groups that provide a community of like-minded individuals or one-on-one.
  • Keep skills relevant and up to date. This can be done by taking certification and university classes, along with attending industry conferences and other events.
  • Eliminate bias in the hiring process. This can be done by hiring women into leadership roles early in a company’s inception, creating longer candidate shortlists when making hiring decisions, and doing blind auditions, in which the interviewer can see and hear the candidate’s work without actually seeing the candidate.
  • Close the gender pay gap. If men and women with the same education and skill set do the same job in a given company, their pay should be equal. It’s time to figure out why a pay gap exists and remove it.
  • Be proactive. There are always opportunities and problems to solve. Accomplished women step up, take action and demonstrate accountability.

David Needle is a veteran technology reporter based in Silicon Valley. He was formerly news editor at Infoworld, editor of Computer Currents and TabTimes and West Coast bureau chief for both InformationWeek and Internet.com.

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