Reducing IT’s Shocking Gender Gap

Remote-first model, focus on wellness key to gender diversity

Technology has always been a driver of progress, but rarely have we seen anything like the current era’s breakneck disruption, with whole sectors eliminated, lifestyles upended and the very psychology of humans at times seeming to be scrambled. So how smart is it that this revolution has overwhelmingly been carried out by only men?

The numbers are shocking. According to Statista, women account for under a fifth of U.S. software developers, computer programmers, systems administrators and support specialists, and just over a mere eighth of hardware engineers. In some categories the figure has actually gone down in the past two decades.

This begins at the education level, with women earning only 18% of bachelor’s degrees in computer science. And studies show it is compounded by gender bias they face in candidacies. In one fascinating experiment, a tech industry recruiter presented employers with a balanced list of 5,000 candidates; when gender was revealed only 5% of those selected for interviews were women, compared to 54% when gender was hidden.

So most entry-level jobs go to men, on top of which the dropout rate of women is higher due to the industry’s lack of emphasis on wellness initiatives for women – a vicious cycle.

The dire results are most pronounced at the highest echelons, where women are rare. Since  we tend to network more easily with those we perceive to be similar, the predominantly male presence in higher-level jobs may diminish women’s chances to gain the network connections that generate promotions – another vicious cycle.

We’re using barely over half our human potential in the one industry that’s probably affecting our civilization and economy more than any other right now. Leaders in the industry simply must fix this. And the good news is that we may be seeing the beginnings of a turning of the tide, at least from the demand side: data gathered by the firm I work in, BairesDev, suggests it’s possible to drive a vast increase in women applying for tech jobs. women applicants in 2021 (from over a million applicants per year on average) were up 400% compared to five years before, with increases at all levels.

Interestingly, the region where women accounted for the highest proportion was Latin America, where we receive the most applications overall: 45% of applicants were female.

As a result we hired 10 times more women in 2021 than in 2017. Still not enough, and not yet proportional to applications, because the applications were concentrated in certain job types. But it’s certainly a start.

Yes, applicant data might be skewed by actions a particular company might have taken to encourage women to apply – for example, we have actively sought a diverse pool of candidates. But even so, these numbers show what is possible.

Part of the solution is promoting an inclusive culture that stresses wellness, an aspect of working which appeals to many women. Indeed, as a newer company we are committed to wellness as a driver of the diversity that we consider in turn vital for innovation. That approach drives us to seek equal opportunities to all.

There is also something more specific and very timely at play here – something critical which may have dramatic implications for the future: BairesDev is a remote-first company since inception [1] that allows staff to work from home and doesn’t generally demand relocations. For women, who historically have been more reluctant to sacrifice family life for career advancement, this is a game-changer.

It aligns with wider global trends in the post-pandemic era, which has accelerated trends that were also happening due to what one might call preexisting conditions: we have tools that enable remote work and specifically collaboration between colleagues, partners and clients without going through the costs of transporting them to one physical space. Indeed, the best ones may be in different cities of countries, rendering the commute to an office absurdly inefficient.

The remote-first paradigm the pandemic accelerated widens the talent pool by embracing women who in the past might have felt a need to leave work to focus on child care, largely because of the commute and the time away from home. We can draw them back to the workforce by allowing them to prioritize both work and home lives.

The impact of fixing the gender gap in tech would be electrifying. Consider how odd it seems today that just a century ago, women were still denied the right to vote which had been granted to men even in highly developed countries. That’s how absurd the current dearth of women in tech will seem to future generations that will have grown accustomed to a world that is more egalitarian and just, and therefore also more successful.

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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