The grim reality of women in tech

James Riley
Editorial Director

Consulting giant Deloitte did something slightly strange with its 2016 Technology, Media & Telecommunications Predictions by including a front-end section about ‘Women in IT Jobs.’

Deloitte’s TMT Predictions is an annual stab at what the future holds for tech. It’s a global research effort, and Deloitte is pretty on-the-money in identifying technology trends on the horizon, and riding the wave of change as these trends develop.

The Women in IT Jobs section is weird because it isn’t so much a prediction as a statement of grim, grinding reality. It gathers some incredible research numbers from around the world, the sum of which paint a bleak picture.

It’s not like people – by which I mean everyone – don’t agree there are gender diversity issues in IT jobs. We have known this for a very long time.

And we also know through research that lack of gender diversity costs the economy billions of dollars annually (Deloitte says the gender gap in the UK alone costs its economy $4 billion each year).

The Deloitte TMT Predictions traces concerns about gender inequality in IT jobs to 2005, but acknowledges that date is somewhat arbitrary. This is the date when concern set in (ie 2005 is when the furrowed brows and wringing hands started.)

The issue predates that concern, of course. The cost is measured in the knock-on effect of lost productivity and poor innovation outcomes. There are countless studies that demonstrate this. If you exclude half the potential workforce from participating at work, it will cost you.

So here is the Deloitte TMT Prediction for 2016 on Women in IT Jobs:

“Deloitte Global predicts that by the end of 2016 fewer than 25 per cent of information technology jobs in developed countries will be held by women. That figure is about the same as 2015, and may be a little bit down.”

So there you go. A known problem, ten years after it was identified, is going backwards.

The good news is that the total number of the women in IT jobs is most assuredly going up. Because the total number of jobs is up 20 per cent. But proportionately we sit in the same place.

There are any number of people who could have told you this of course, as well as Deloitte. But the issue is more complex, and certainly more difficult, than those who first identified it in 2005 thought it might be.

It turns out that this is a weirdly cultural and social problem. Education is a key. But education is only a part of the solution.

Definitely have a look at the Deloitte report on this. Because it is full of crazy numbers, the stuff that makes you want to pull a dooner over your head.

Here are some standout numbers: Only 18 per cent of university computer science graduates in 2013 were women. That was down from 1985 when 37 per cent of computer science students were women (that is 20 years before the folk in 2005 realised this was a problem.) This is compared to female participation rates at university of more than 50 per cent.

The number are similar in the UK, Canada and Sweden – and the Deloitte crew maintain Australia is on the same curve.

The same kind of numbers can be said of pre-tertiary education, and primary. Ultimately, researchers point to the role parents play in encouraging girls younger than this to be interested in science and technology. (I think on this as I watch my 18-month-old playing with pre-Lego blocks the size of house bricks.)

But forget the formative years. The workforce years are more instructive. In a hiring process, more than half of a firm say that only one in twenty applicants for IT jobs are women. This seems disconcerting, until you realise the small number of women applying for jobs is because they never saw it advertised.

Algorithms are the issue. In an online world, software displaying ads for certain senior positions are six times more likely to be served up to men than women. That is how our world works. Women do not get to see the ads.

Deloitte surfaces other strange findings: “Various studies from multiple countries have shown that both men and women are twice as likely to hire a man for a job than an equally qualified woman.” That is a straight forward unconscious bias.

Once a young woman has an IT job, they are 45 per cent more likely – I repeat, 45 per cent more likely – to leave that job in the first year (this according to a US study). After the first year is also a problem, when one in five women with a STEM education is out of the workforce, compared to only one in ten men with a STEM education.

A hostile work environment – as defined by a ‘brogrammer’ culture – is cited by Deloitte as a contributing factor. If this excites you, definitely go on to look at the recent “Elephant in the Valley” research.

And then there is the pay gap. A female web developer will earn 79 cents for every dollar a male counterpart earns. A female systems manager does better at 87 cents (these are US numbers, but they are not dissimilar in Australia.)

There are lots of other numbers. It really is grim.

You would like to say that things have improved, and that now that we are all about awareness, that women have an equal shot in the tech sector. But the numbers tell a different story.

Of course there are bright spots. There are more women in senior executive roles in tech than ever before. Role models etc. And it is true that tech companies perform better than other industries (as crappy as Silicon Valley’s record is on gender diversity, tech is better than many other industries (in roles for women in IT jobs.)

Australia (as we love to do) punches above its weight. We have 28 per cent of our IT roles filled with women, instead of 25 per cent.

Yes we are shithouse, but we are less so than our developed nation brethren, I suppose. Go Australia!

Ultimately it is an awful, generational blight. It is a problem for developed economies. Perhaps in a globalised economy we should stop worrying about this, that the averages would look better if we included the women in China. Or India.

Or we could just get serious about an embarrassing issue. Deloitte has done some good work here, it is worth a read. And yes, the TMT Predictions also had lots of other interesting stuff about mobiles, Pay-TV, broadband and gigabit wotnot.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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