Can the key to getting more American women into tech jobs be in the hands of mayors across the country?
It’s an interesting proposition that Anita Garimella Andrews, vice president of client analytics services at RJMetrics recently uncovered when digging into the data surrounding the persistently low percentage of female tech workers. It turns out that in cities with a concentration of technology companies that also have female mayors, there’s more equality among tech workers.
Case in point: Las Vegas, the city leads the country with women making up the majority (over 64%) of its tech workforce. Its mayor is Carolyn Goodman, who’s held the position since 2011, and incidentally has a daughter who graduated from Stanford and worked in IT.
The U.S. average is only 29% according to the RJMetrics survey of the top 50 cities in tech as determined through Meetup data. That’s a bit higher than the 26% of women in computer or mathematical occupations that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported for 2013.
Other cities with female mayors didn’t have the scale tip so dramatically toward women employed in tech, but were still higher than the national average. Among them:
- Oakland 46.8%
- Houston 34.25%
- Palo Alto 30.19%
- Baltimore 29.65%
Andrews is quick to point out that having a female mayor isn’t necessarily a guarantee that more women will hold tech jobs in a particular city.
In Las Vegas, Andrews posits, the overall employment landscape looks more female-friendly because there’s better pay parity in Nevada. Women earn 85 cents for every dollar brought home by their male counterparts in that state, according to a recent survey by the U.S. Census. Oakland and Palo Alto are close behind as California’s average for women’s pay is 84 cents for every dollar earned by a man.
Could it be that these cities have more young workers? Pew Research found that millennial women are closer to pay parity than their gen X and boomer counterparts. Without prior year data to examine, Andrews doesn't have the answer. She tells Fast Company: "I'm hopeful that a younger population will mean that we have a greater gender balance in tech. But I don't think that age is as much of a contributory factor on the tech-creation side as it is on the tech-consumption side. The population of folks working in tech has always skewed young."
But in a blog post about the study she writes, "We found that a female mayor positively correlated with more women in tech." This is backed up by another study coauthored by an MIT economist which found that female politicians in local government raised the academic performance and career aspirations of young women.
What female leadership doesn’t guarantee is participation. Particularly in Meetup groups. This RJMetrics survey and another on the global tech scene was based on data available from Meetups' public API.
As analyst Tristan Handy notes in a blog post: "Since 2002, Meetup has grown in lock-step with the tech scene." For the women in tech study, Andrews discovered that while 22% of all Meetup groups are led by women, it doesn’t correlate to a majority of female membership.
For Andrews, who also founded the nonprofit TechGirlz dedicated to reducing the gender gap in the tech sector, it’s more than a lament at industry conferences, click bait for headlines, or a "softer, social good" issue.
"That's the wrong way to look at it—this is an economic issue," she states. "There is a mismatch between the number of STEM jobs projected in the U.S. and the population of U.S.-based talent to fill those positions," says Andrews. Indeed, there are going to be an estimated 1.2 million new tech jobs created over the next six years. "Getting women in tech is a "must have" for the future growth of these industries," adds Andrews.
It’s a complex problem to solve, she admits. Many company executives agree that gender diversity can be very good for business. There’s even a body of research to support the theory. But talking about it and making it an action item with measurable goals still eludes all but the most dedicated organizations.
Other factors thwarting the ranks of women are the persistent "brogrammer" culture in tech centers, educational systems that don’t encourage enough women to pursue STEM programs, as well as the rarity of companies that actively support mothering on the job.
Andrews believes solving this problem isn’t just beneficial to women who want good, high-paying jobs; it’s beneficial for the entire tech industry. "It’s quite possible that Vegas, Oakland, Nashville, and other cities exceeding the 29% standard will have an advantage in the coming years," she writes, "By creating environments conducive to women in tech, they’re expanding the size and diversity of their technical human capital."