The paucity of women in technology has been described as “disastrous,” and perhaps the most problematic aspect of the issue is the glacial rate at which it is improving. Only 26 percent of technical computing jobs are filled by women, according to a 2013 study, and in the last few years, this proportion has barely shifted.
For example, only 18 percent of LinkedIn and Google’s engineering roles are held by women, and just 20 percent of Apple’s technical jobs have women performing them. Last Tuesday at TheWrap’s first New York Power Women’s Breakfast, Shelley Zalis, CEO of IPSOS OTX, noted, “There’s power in the pack. If we could have done it alone it would have happened by now.”
The problem that Zalis points out is one that has been heard before within powerful female circles — the higher up you go, the fewer women there are, leading to a sense of distinct isolation. In the tech industry, one of the few in which queues for male bathrooms far outstrip those for female bathrooms, the gender imbalance is not only starkly pronounced, but also one that has drawn considerable attention, thanks to vocal advocates for equality in the workplace and expensive programs that have been implemented in hopes of alleviating at least part of the problem.
For example, Apple pledged this year to donate “$50 million to organizations that will help women and minorities get into tech jobs,” while Google told CNN of its plans to spend “$150 million on a combination of internal and external diversity efforts.” But despite these monetary efforts, there doesn’t seem to be meaningful change within the ranks, which may be due to the immense gender skew when it comes to leadership positions not only in technology, but in industries across the board.
This lack of support from the top down means that even where women are entering technical roles, they’re not staying there. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a stunning 74 percent of women who graduated college with STEM degrees were not employed in STEM positions. “One of the biggest roadblocks is not about entering the field,” Amy Doherty, acting CIO at AARP, told Information Week. “It’s about staying in.”
But it’s difficult to stay in the game when none of your colleagues look like you, experts say. In a recent interview, Mary Wieck, GM of IBM Middleware, noted, “My point of view is that it isn’t a women’s issue, it’s a workplace issue. We need to get it to the level of an organizational issue, with men driving the change.”
And at last week’s Power Women’s Breakfast, Rachel Sklar, founder of Change The Ratio/The List agreed, saying, “The notion of owning your power, acknowledging it, acknowledging the power of other women and acknowledging the shell game of who gets to wield power is really important. I think it’s important to stop and say, ‘How am I giving up my power? What power should I be taking? If I were a man what would I be doing? Would I be having this reaction or would I be swinging it around?”
Important questions to be asking to solve a problem that has existed for far too long.