Although there are more women in technology fields in the US than in other countries, women are still in the minority. Why is this and what can be done about it? This subject has been the focus of a lot of scrutiny and debate, and likely will continue to be as long as the numbers of women versus men are so disparate.
The American Association of University Women (AAUW, 2010) published an executive summary of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics, citing the following reasons why there are so few women in comparison to men in technology and related fields:
- Existing stereotypes regarding girls’ abilities in math and science: Boys and men consistently score higher on tasks involving spatial reasoning and skills; however, this does not mean that girls and women cannot hone their abilities with practice. In addition, girls/women often assess their math and science abilities as lower than boys/men, thus setting a higher standard for themselves and discouraging themselves from pursuing careers in technology and science.
- Colleges and universities often do not actively recruit females into their technology/science programs: Often there are few or no female faculty members in these programs, which may further alienate female students; the IT/science departments may be less welcoming to female students, as studies show that women are often less satisfied than their male counterparts with the academic workplace and leave it more often/earlier than their male counterparts.
- Bias: Biases are implicitly present towards women in sciences; society often holds negative opinions of women in math, science and technology fields and women may be thought of as less competent than their male peers; gender biases are still pervasive, with many still holding the opinion that men are generally better in the sciences, while women often are more successful in fields utilizing language skills.
In terms of wages, there is a perceived gender gap that’s definitely backed up by hard statistics. A List Apart (2008) surveyed website creators and published their finding on the Internet. There were 29,567 respondents: of these, 83.8% were male and 16.2% were female. In terms of bias, 18.8% of women felt that their gender had hurt them professionally, while only 1.1% of men felt this way. In terms of salary, 41% of the women surveyed made less than $60,000 in comparison to 28.7% of men. Only 15.6% of women made over $100,000 compared to 25.4% of men.
A Techies.com survey found that women and men started out at roughly the same salaries for the first five years of employment, but the gender wage gap begins to increase as experience increases. Women over the age of 50 demonstrated the largest wage gaps. Women were employed most commonly as programmer analysts, project managers and applications developers.
The AAUW (2010) executive summary contains several recommendations regarding how to encourage girls/women towards careers in technology:
- Encourage a “growth mindset”: Teachers and parents should encourage girls to believe in their potential in math/sciences and emphasize the fact that both sexes can succeed equally well, thus improving outcomes and overcoming stereotypes regarding girls’ abilities in math and science. Spatial skills training should be integrated into the curriculum so that girls can improve their skills in this area, making it more likely that they will choose a career in science or technology.
- Attract and retain female students in college and university programs: Hiring female faculty, implementing mentorship programs and promoting a female-friendly atmosphere can lead to improved recruitment/retention of female students.
- Teach students about stereotype threat: Teachers/advisors should be educated on the dangers of stereotype threat (the idea that negative stereotypes adversely affect the performance of the stereotyped group) so that they can mitigate the effect of this bias.
It’s not all doom and gloom- the IT industry offers women the best chance for pay equity than any other industry. In promoting IT as a viable career choice to girls at a young age, and by working to reduce bias and stereotypes, the numbers of women in technology will surely continue to grow.