Few women in tech. Even fewer at the top

Considering the opportunities it offers and the talents it already lacks, women are too few in tech. In the field, female professionals comprise less than a third of the world’s workforce (World Bank), hold 28% of computer and mathematical occupations and do not even reach 16% in engineering and architecture jobs.

In the United States, where STEM occupations represent 23% of the total labour force, women are 35% (National Science Foundation.) Their presence doesn’t spike even in the “big 5” (Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta and Microsoft), reaching, in 2020, only 31% of the employees.

Albeit in the next few years, the great majority (90%, according to Boston Consulting Group) of the most attractive jobs will be in technology, and even if the pool of talent is increasing at the junior level, still only 25% of the top positions are held by women, dropping to 14% in software engineering. Unsurprisingly, the picture will not change much if left to itself, and the economic gender gap will be closed in 132 years.

From layoffs to the numbers at the top

In 2022, according to research by the Women Tech Network, 69.2% of those laid off in tech were women. And even if the opportunities in these fields continue to be significant, they have yet to be equally distributed between genders, especially progressing on the leadership ladder.

As of July 2023, there are only 2 (the 4%) women CEOs among the 50 largest tech companies by market capitalization: Safra A. Catz (Oracle Corporation) and Lisa Su (AMD, Advanced Micro Devices.) Moreover, the Big Five have yet to have a female CEO. There are also very few women CFOs among the tech companies; as of August 2023, only 63 in the Fortune 500. To name the names of those working in tech companies that are among the list’s first 100 overall: Amy Hood (Microsoft), Ruth Porat (Alphabet and Google) and Susan Li (Meta).

Women primarily occupy roles as general counsel, chief marketing officer and chief people officers. And even if studies confirm they are similarly driven to reach the top and are as ambitious as their male colleagues, the challenges they face hinder them from entering higher positions. These challenges are widespread and span from being mistaken for someone more junior to having ideas credited to (male) coworkers. Especially in management roles, women in tech suffer from microaggressions undermining their authority. They are more likely to see their judgements questioned or have colleagues implying they aren’t qualified for the job.

Midlevel management

Indeed, the ladder for female leaders in tech also has many broken rungs. From the lower number of those entering STEM or technical studies to the slim percentage of those reaching the top, the imbalances spread to the low numbers of startup female founders and the amount of money they raise for their enterprises.

Much needs to change, and a lot of time is required – just consider the differences in the access to tools girls have compared to boys. On a positive note, according to Boston Consulting Group, immediate and effective interventions can be taken inside the companies to bring more women to the decision tables. “Midlevel managers make up the pipeline of future leaders in tech“, the consultancy confirms. It is there where most of the female talent gets lost. If their progression doesn’t stop altogether, it is slowed and prevents a smoother transition from workers to leaders. But if tackled, it can offer more appealing paths and attainable goals even for the younger generations.

BCG’s latest study on midlevel and senior tech leaders shows some common traits that prevent women from advancing and companies from retaining them longer. Female midlevel leaders are significantly less happy with their current jobs than male employees – senior management generally show a more balanced situation between gender. Incidentally, being parents complicates things for them, reducing work happiness – most likely due to the added needs and challenges to balance the different responsibilities. We are talking about ten percentage points less for mothers compared to fathers. If that was not enough, unconscious biases around maternity come into play: companies often assume that women are prone to slow down the progression of their careers once they have kids.

The work environment

What can help or support those women who (want to) proceed in their careers in tech? In their survey, BCG found that female middle managers are less likely to advance quickly, mainly if they cannot rely on a supportive and inclusive work environment. In this respect, mentorship and sponsorship programs (formal or informal) can be critical in helping them access higher positions, even because female professionals value the sense of safety, the freedom to be themselves, and a good relationship with their superiors and colleagues as key drives even to consider staying in a place.

Another crucial element for the progression of more women to top positions is the presence of diversity in senior leadership teams; it has been shown to influence higher levels of satisfaction and companies’ better performances. According to the survey, “Diversity at the top sends a signal throughout the organization, reflecting a commitment to equitable hiring and to bias-free, safe environments. More balanced leadership teams” foster environments promoting the advancement of women to higher roles.

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