According to CNN, only about 28% of workers in STEM fields identify as female. Multiple studies have proved that women are no less capable of working as men. So why aren’t women working in tech jobs? The answer is complicated.
Statistically speaking, girls do better than boys on tests in childhood. According to Stanford University, “girls surpass boys on reading and writing in almost every U.S. school district regardless of local wealth or racial makeup. In third grade, female students outperform boys by roughly half a grade level. By the end of 8th grade, girls are almost a full grade ahead.” In high school, 91.6% of males graduated, compared to 94.3% of females. (American Council on Education) Women make up the majority (52.2%) of the college-educated workforce, as described by Dani Matias for NPR. The National Science Foundation states that 42% of first-year college students studying STEM are female. So, the problem with a lack of women in tech isn’t that they aren’t graduating or aren’t qualified––it’s that something is driving them away from computer science positions in higher education. This phenomenon of women starting out interested in STEM but choosing a different profession down the road is known as the “leaky pipeline.”
No Good Role Models
A common reason women don’t go into tech is a lack of representation in the media of women who work in the technological fields. According to WGU, “Young women […] have fewer role models and examples [in STEM] to follow. Mentorship and role models are extremely important for anyone in pursuing a degree, looking to gain skills, and getting a career.” Furthermore, the stereotypical portrayal of women in STEM discourages potential programmers. Digital Commons argues that “the portrayals of women in relation to STEM fields [perpetuates] stereotypes. [They] create a barrier of stereotypes that women in STEM must overcome.”
Another factor driving women from technology fields is sexism. According to Sage Journals, a woman in STEM is more likely to be perceived as overemotional and hysterical than a man. As a result, there is a difference in salary. The wage gap, while existing in jobs in every field, is especially persistent in STEM. According to USCD, “Women in STEM earn $20,000 less per year than men in STEM, the pay disparity increased by 3% between 2010 and 2015, and has remained stable at 23% in recent years.” This is listed as considerable factor for women avoid STEM fields.
When it comes to technological fields, the percentage of female workers decreasing even further. According to the USCD Center for Research and Evaluation, the number of women in tech decreased from 44% in 1990 to just 27% in 2018.
Sexism and Other Forms of Discrimination
Women of color have it especially hard. Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Pacific Islander women make up a total of just 3% of tech workers. For them, racism and sexism go hand in hand. According to The Guardian, “Thirty percent of underrepresented women [of color] said they were passed over for a promotion.” LGBTQ+ women also face multitudes of discrimination. Harassment is common for both groups.
Fixing the Problem
One solution is to encourage young girls before to go into tech. Creating female role models in tech, especially women of color and LGBTQ+ women, helps tell girls they’re just as capable with computers as boys. An example of good female POC scientist representation is Shuri in Black Panther. She is a non-stereotypical scientist and plays an integral role in driving the plot forward. Another solution is to examine unconscious biases in leaders and foremen and reinforce a strict code of conduct. It’s also important to create a work environment that doesn’t shame women into keeping incidents of sexism private for fear of their careers.