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Women in Technology: The Stakes Keep Getting Higher

Women in Technology: The Stakes Keep Getting Higher

By EY

What will the rise of job automation do for gender parity? An underrepresentation of women in technology gives reason for concern. The transformative power of technology is increasingly impacting all other industries. It’s now blurring boundaries between sectors – with companies increasingly developing their own digital platforms and solutions. The impact of these new technologies promises to usher in a future with endless possibilities and new opportunities.

But unfortunately, that’s bad news for women. Disruptive technologies, including the rise of robots and artificial intelligence, will result in a net loss of 5.1 million jobs by 2020 in 15 leading countries according to the World Economic Forum’s latest The Future of Jobs report.

And while the report stresses that these job losses will be offset by the creation of two million new jobs, it also acknowledges that women will suffer the most as many of their jobs are concentrated in areas that can be automated relatively easily, such as sales, office or administrative roles.

Within the tech industry itself there has been little movement in the last year despite vows to address issues of gender diversity and women representation in leadership. In its diversity report issued in November 2016, Microsoft stated that the percentage of women it employed globally fell from 29% in mid-2014 to 26.8%, though it added a few women to its leadership team.

At Google, the overall representation of women stayed flat at 30% from 2014 to 2015, while those in leadership edged up from 21% to 22%. So, with women barely making progress in technology, what will happen as other sectors increasingly demand technological skills for success?

The reasons given for why women are making little headway in this critical industry are many. It starts, of course, with relatively few women pursuing computer science in school. Today, just 18% of US computer science college graduates are women. That’s down from 37% in 1985 and far behind India, for example, where women account for more than 40% of computer science graduates.

But many people are also pointing to the “leaky pipeline” as another major contributor to the lack of parity in science, engineering and technology. A 2014 Center for Talent Innovation study published in the Harvard Business Review found that women working in STEM fields are 45% more likely than their male colleagues to leave their industries within a year.

The research identifies a number of drivers for this disparity, such as conscious and unconscious biases, women feeling stalled in their careers, hightech’s “geek workplace culture”, double standards in training opportunities and perceived prejudices in performance evaluations.

For example, in the US, nearly half of women working in tech believe senior management judge men as better suited for leadership than women. Even worse, nearly one-third of top management agree that no woman would reach leadership positions of their companies regardless of abilities or performance.

 It’s even worse news in India, where a full two-thirds of the industry’s senior leaders believe that women will never rise to top. That’s certainly discouraging news for women considering a move into technology roles and for female computer science graduates starting out in their careers. 

Such concerns have certainly not been lost on universities and tech companies, and there are of course no easy solutions. So a number of them have launched a variety of initiatives to bring more women into tech and keep them there.

At Google, the overall representation of women stayed flat at

from 2014 to 2015, while those in leadership edged up from

But many people are also pointing to the “leaky pipeline” as another major contributor to the lack of parity in science, engineering and technology. A 2014 Center for Talent Innovation study published in the Harvard Business Review found that women working in STEM fields are 45% more likely than their male colleagues to leave their industries within a year.

The research identifies a number of drivers for this disparity, such as conscious and unconscious biases, women feeling stalled in their careers, hightech’s “geek workplace culture”, double standards in training opportunities and perceived prejudices in performance evaluations.

For example, in the US, nearly half of women working in tech believe senior management judge men as better suited for leadership than women. Even worse, nearly one-third of top management agree that no woman would reach leadership positions of their companies regardless of abilities or performance.

 It’s even worse news in India, where a full two-thirds of the industry’s senior leaders believe that women will never rise to top. That’s certainly discouraging news for women considering a move into technology roles and for female computer science graduates starting out in their careers. 

Such concerns have certainly not been lost on universities and tech companies, and there are of course no easy solutions. So a number of them have launched a variety of initiatives to bring more women into tech and keep them there.

At Stanford, for the first time, computer science has become the most popular major for female students, with women now accounting for 30% of all computer science majors. In 2009, the department revamped its undergraduate curriculum, adding more multi-disciplinary tracks, such as psychology and product design, to broaden the major’s appeal.

And it started recruiting talented female students — aiming to build their confidence and underscore technology’s potential for social good.

Microsoft has long sponsored a programme to get more female high-schoolers interested in high-tech careers, created “mentoring rings” to help retain female employees and formalised an initiative to help lift more women into “managers of managers” positions.

Google has expanded its benefits, such as its caregiver programme, to meet more of the life-work needs of women and men, while actively tackling unconscious bias in its ranks.

Other firms have launched innovative efforts. To bypass male-dominated college computer science programmes, Etsy’s founders began investing in talented women not trained in programming with three-month scholarships to the Hacker School. Within a year, Etsy increased the number of women on its engineering team by fivefold.

These steps are headed in the right direction, but the point stands that we are at a crucial crossroads in the future of women in tech, as well as a fast growing list of other industries.

With women being more-or less excluded from an industry that is changing every part of our life, we run the risk of further exacerbating gender inequalities. Simply put, we all need to do more and that includes women.

As organisations like Girls Who Code and events like the Grace Hopper Conference underscore, women need to help transform the high-tech world – from the all-boy video game culture to a more inclusive workplace culture where people from all backgrounds can succeed.

And women have to think about how they approach success in this industry. As the Center for Talent Innovation explored in a 2014 study, ambitious men and women generally want the same things out of their high-tech careers — such as the ability to flourish, excel and reach for meaning and purpose.

But unlike men, many women don’t connect achieving their ambitions to the need for power. Instead, many women see the burdens of leadershipoutweighing the benefits, and lose interest.

In Davos at the World Economic Forum 2017, we discussed the full impact of the fourth industrial revolution, and there is much fuel for serious reflection about the role of diversity in shaping the future.

Let’s make sure we continue to include in our discussion the search for solutions that bridge the current chasm between women and their place in technology. Given the rate and extent of change driven by this industry and the potentially different or divergent impact on men and women, diversity and inclusion are now more important than ever before.

Disruptive technologies, including the rise of robots and artificial intelligence, 
will result in a net loss of 5.1 million jobs by 2020 in 15 leading countries.

This article was published in MANAGEMENT VOL.55 No.1. 2020. To view past issues of MIM’s quarterly magazine: click here.

 

If you are interested in advertising or subscribing to MANAGEMENT please email: management@mim.org.my  

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