We Need More Women in Tech: The Data Prove It

Male dominance in the field is bad for women, and bad for the industry, as well.
CEOs Steve Ballmer of Microsoft, Stephen Elop of Nokia, and Ralph de la Vega of AT&T Mobility at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (Reuters)

Across the technology sector there is a major disparity between men and women.

While 57 percent of occupations in the workforce are held by women, in computing occupations that figure is only 25 percent. Of chief information officer jobs (CIOs) at Fortune 250 companies, 20 percent were held by a woman in 2012.

Unfortunately, this is not merely a temporary blip, as this disparity is present at the college level. In 2010, although 57 percent of undergraduate degree recipients were female, but only 14 percent of the computer science degrees at major research universities. Incredibly, this number has actually fallen  in recent years: In 1985, 37 percent of undergraduates degree recipients in computer science were women. By 2010, that fell to 18 percent, and at major research universities, the number was 14 percent. 

Incredibly, just 0.4 percent of female college freshmen say they intend to major in computer science—an astoundingly low number. 

Looking to the data from high schoolers, the disparity is still extreme. While 56 percent of Advanced Placement test-takers were female, only 19 percent of test-takers on the AP Computer Science test were. At the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), one of the world’s largest pre-college sciences competitions with more than $4,000,000 in awards, only 17 percent of 2011 finalists in computer science were young women.

This is Bad for Tech

This disparity hurts the technology companies themselves.

First, if half of the users of technology products and websites are women, then one would think that having women not just on staff, but in positions of leadership to define future directions for the company, is in their direct pecuniary interest. According to a recent study by Delloite:

Research shows that [women’s] choices impact up to 85 percent of purchasing decisions. By some analyses, they account for $4.3 trillion of total U.S. consumer spending of $5.9 trillion, making women the largest single economic force not just in the United States, but in the world.

According to a report by Parks Associates, more women than men are downloading movies and music; women do the majority of game-playing across some platforms; and women have higher “purchase intentions” than men do when it comes to some electronics.

To be clear, this is not to say that every women in a technology company is an expert in how to create products for women—that is absurd—but certainly technology companies could benefit from an understanding of the perspectives and needs of the “largest single economic force” in the world.

Further, there have been several empirical  studies finding that “people with more diverse sources of information generated consistently better ideas.” Walmart, not a technology company, has explained, “Diverse teams often outperform teams composed of the very best individuals, because this diversity of perspective and problem-solving approach trumps individual ability.”

Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, and Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer, have demonstrated that women can be a driving force for innovation and ideas in technology.

This Is Bad for Women

According to an Engine Advocacy study published by the Kauffman Foundation, increasing numbers of jobs are coming from the high-tech sector.

The Kauffman report found that during the past three decades, the high-tech sector was 23 percent more likely than the economy as a whole to witness a new business formation. And the information and communications technology (ICT) sector was 48 percent more likely. High-tech firm births were 69 percent higher, and for ICT 210 percent higher, in 2011 as compared with 1980.

While older and larger firms are a major source of employment, the report found that it is “new and young businesses that are the primary sources of net new jobs.” In fact, outside of new businesses, job creation in the United States has been negative over the past three decades.  As of 2012, U.S. tech employment totals 5.95 million.

And these are good, high-paying jobs.  The tech industry pays an annual wage of $93,800 (as of 2012), which is 98 percent more than the average private sector wage. In some states like California and Massachusetts, it’s significantly higher, with $123,900 and $116,000, respectively. There are expected to be 1.4 million job openings for computer specialists by 2020. One would hope that women would be eligible for more than 25 percent of these future high-paying job openings.

The computing industry is one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S., and in the past year there was a 3.5 percent increase in software services jobs, vastly outpacing population growth of 0.9 percent. There are so many open jobs in the technology sector that many technology companies are unable to fill current openings. They worry about expanding in the future and being able to fill future needs. At current graduation rates, only 30 percent of the jobs created by 2020 can be filled with U.S. computing graduates.

How Do We Fix It?

There are many theories on why there are not more woman in the technology sector. It is likely that many woman haven’t considered a career in technology to begin with. In one study, a market research firm asked teenagers whether they’d consider a career in technology—and 63 percent said they hadn’t even considered it. This data point on teenagers overall is likely particularly on-point for women. One of Microsoft’s vice presidents, Cindy Bates, explains that “we need to do a better job of exposing women to technology-related jobs.”

Presented by

Derek Khanna is a Yale Law Visiting Fellow at the Information Society Project. He was previously a congressional staffer for the House Republican Study Committee and Senator Scott Brown (R-MA). He writes about issues at the intersection of government and technology.

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