What gives? The number of women graduating from college each year passed the number of men marking the same achievement years ago, but women remain underrepresented in the college majors sought by technology employers. That surely accounts for part of the gender gap afflicting tech employers, but corporate culture also is often seen as a culprit.
While it’s still largely a man’s world at the big tech companies in Silicon Valley and beyond, those employers are at least becoming self-conscious about the gender gap in their ranks. Last summer, tech leaders including Yahoo, Facebook, and Google joined the list of tech companies releasing figures showing how they lack diversity.
“More work to do”
In a blog post on June 17, 2014, Yahoo released statistics about the company’s global workforce as of June 2014. The figures show just 37 percent of its employees were women. The company also broke the overall figures down, showing just 15 percent of the company’s tech employees were women, and 23 percent of the company’s leadership was made up of women. (Leadership was defined as vice presidents and above.)
In announcing the diversity statistics Yahoo stated, “Overall, our goal at Yahoo is to create a workplace culture that attracts and retains all talents, regardless of background, and to help our people grow to their full potential.”
A week later, Facebook released diversity figures showing 31 percent of its global workforce was female. Just 15 percent of the tech employees in the June 2014 data were female, and 47 percent of non-tech positions were filled by women. Twenty-three percent of senior-level positions were held by women.
“As these numbers show, we have more work to do—a lot more. But the good news is that we’ve begun to make progress,” Facebook’s announcement said. “Diversity is something that we’re treating as everyone’s responsibility at Facebook, and the challenge of finding qualified but underrepresented candidates is one that we’re addressing as part of a strategic effort across Facebook.”
Google released figures showing that 30 percent of its overall global workforce was female as of January 2014. Women filled 17 percent of tech positions, 48 percent of non-tech positions, and 21 percent of leadership positions.
In a May announcement, Google addressed part of the reason for the diversity gap. “There are lots of reasons why technology companies like Google struggle to recruit and retain women and minorities,” the statement said. “For example, women earn roughly 18 percent of all computer science degrees in the United States. Blacks and Hispanics each make up under 10 percent of U.S. college grads and each collect fewer than 10 percent of degrees in CS majors.”
Google also pointed to its $40 million investment in organizations that encourage women and girls to go into computer science and its work with historically black colleges and universities to increase computer science opportunities.
Information from the U.S. Census Bureau backs up the gender gap shown in the tech giants’ employment statistics. In July, the Census Bureau announced that men greatly outnumber women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers, especially in computer and engineering occupations. Census figures show about 86 percent of engineers and 74 percent of computer professionals are men.
What to do
So what are tech employers doing to narrow the gender gap? Chip maker Intel is making headlines with its $300 million Diversity in Technology initiative. CEO Brian Krzanich announced the plan on January 6, 2015, that calls for a hiring and retention goal “to achieve full representation of women and under-represented minorities at Intel by 2020,” according to an announcement from the company.
“We’re calling on our industry to again make the seemingly impossible possible by making a commitment to real change and clarity in our goals,” Krzanich said. “Without a workforce that more closely mirrors the population, we are missing opportunities, including not understanding and designing for our own customers.” In addition to working with industry partners, Intel plans to work with primary education programs and higher education institutions, including minority-serving institutions.
Besides encouraging women and minorities to enter computer science fields, companies are focusing on retaining them. Fiona Woods, a human resources executive with business and technology services company Cognizant, wrote about her company’s gender diversity efforts in a May 2014 post on ComputerWeekly.com. Allowing flexible work arrangements is one component of her company’s efforts.
“This can include part-time work, flexible start and end times, shared roles and working from home or remotely some or all of the time,” Woods wrote. She also urged using technology, including social, mobile, analytics, and cloud technology to help an employer recruit and retain women.
“Their needs and concerns must be heard and addressed by the C-suite as with any other employee,” Woods wrote. “This approach ensures women are engaged and excited to be part of a global community of employees, who face similar challenges at work and who have similar professional interests.”