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Technology has generally been viewed as a man’s world. But is there data to back up this perception? In recent years, there has been impetus for change as the female influence increases. And this is only one small piece of a conversation that’s taking place on a global scale, so much so that some news outlets have entire web pages and segments dedicated wholly to the subject.
All specific industries aside, women are advancing at a steady pace within the corporate world, causing a significant shift in workplace dynamics. But despite this, current research suggests that for particular industries, this shift isn’t occurring as quickly as one might expect.
So what does the atmosphere look like for women who pursue a career in tech? We took it upon ourselves to find out. After careful analysis of data pulled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics, Frontier Business discovered the percentage of women working in tech corporations and the likelihood they’ll advance throughout their careers to executive positions in Fortune 500 companies.
A female presence in the workplace is not uncommon. This is the 21st century, after all, and women make up 46.9% of the workforce. Women have historically contributed on a massive scale to the advancement of technology (Ada Lovelace, anyone?). But how many women currently flex their innovation muscles within the tech world is really the crux of the issue. Technology changes so quickly that it’s hard to keep up—so the question is, if it’s advancing at such a rate, why haven’t particular demographic patterns and advancements kept pace? And when the progressive, idealistic veneer is stripped away, what does the industry really look like for women right now?
To determine the answer to this question, we took our research back to school. We examined the total number of graduates with a four-year degree in a technology-related field. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only about 20% of these graduates are women, even though women make up 57% of all four-year degree earners throughout the country.
Yet even if a woman receives a tech degree, there’s no guarantee she will use it in her career, or rise through the ranks of the corporate jungle, degree in tow. With data pulled from the 39 tech businesses that made the most current list of Fortune 500 companies, we found that of the tech company executives who actually had a degree in a technological field, only about 13% were women. A full 20 of the 39 companies we studied had no female executives who held a tech degree at all. In fact, many of the female leaders in the tech space came from business, HR, financial, or legal backgrounds.
It’s hard to say if this trend is a generational one or if it will change in the coming years. Women hold nearly 52% of all management and professional-level jobs, so why doesn’t that number translate to one of the most lucrative industries of the modern age? The patterns we found in our data are perplexing to say the least. The male domination of the tech world still persists, and likely will for the next few years.
These results reveal that female leadership, or a significant female presence in general, is underrepresented within the tech industry.
That’s not to say that women aren’t succeeding in technology—prominent modern figures such as Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook and founder of the Lean In organization), Susan Wojcicki (CEO of YouTube), and Reshma Saujani (founder of the Girls Who Code foundation) have earned international recognition and broken so many glass ceilings that the sky is no longer the limit, and hasn’t been for years. And of the entire workforce involved in tech-related trades (over 5,600,000 jobs), around 23% are female.
Many of these women credit the work and influence of pioneers such as Marie Curie and Katherine Johnson in inspiring their own tenacity, picking up and enhancing extraordinary momentum that took place during the technological revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries. But the climate has changed in the last few decades, as Shaherose Charania, former CEO of Women 2.0, once expressed. Nowadays, it’s not so much about creating momentum as it is about keeping it rolling:
Essentially, female success hinges on a woman bringing her “A” game and keeping it strong as she navigates through the demanding terrain of the corporate tech world.
The current landscape represents a challenge, but like any other movement forward, actions speak louder than words. The women who are shaking the foundations of tech are advancing past boundaries and providing a new perspective on how products and services ought to be developed and marketed, and how they should function. Why? Because men aren’t the only ones buying products or using services. Tracy Chou, a software engineer at Pinterest, put it quite nicely:
Although our research did not point to major upward momentum for women’s success in tech right now, as more women become educated and take the step toward that field, the face of the industry just might change in coming years. It’s hard to predict if this significant gender gap will ever close, but one thing is certain: women are still making their mark and will continue to do so despite the odds that are against them—and that’s what will ultimately change the game.
For a subject as sensitive as this one, careful research and analysis is crucial to produce an accurate, compelling argument. To do this, Frontier Business analyzed three distinct phases of a typical tech career using information gathered from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics.
Tech degrees: This is defined as any degree obtained within technological fields such as:
This does not, however, include all STEM disciplines—for instance, not all mathematics and physics fields were taken into consideration. The conclusive data pulled from this stage was the average percentage of female college graduates in the degrees listed above over the past eight years (from school years 2009/10 through 2016/17).
Tech jobs: We analyzed the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ occupational data for 2017 to determine how many tech jobs exist in the US today. These jobs included:
Executive leadership: We examined companies included in the 2018 Fortune 500 list under the category “Technology.” The pool of candidates included anyone with leadership and executive positions as listed on the companies’ leadership/executive pages, and excluded those whose only listed role was a member of the Board of Directors. For statistics demonstrating education—which we used to more accurately pinpoint the experience of executives in the field—we defined “tech background” as including individuals who received an undergraduate or graduate college degree in one of the tech fields listed above. Executives who did not complete their degree were not counted. We also looked closely at career paths, as some executives did not have schooling or their degree information available, so work history was examined instead.
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