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Women in Technology: The Reality by Dr. Caroline Simard

In the US and around the world, women are under-represented in technology professions. According to the US Department of Labor, women make up 26% of US computer and math occupations and only 8% of engineering managers in the US. In Silicon Valley, women account for 24% of engineering and computer professionals.

In the US and around the world, women are under-represented in technology professions. According to the US Department of Labor, women make up 26% of US computer and math occupations and only 8% of engineering managers in the US. In Silicon Valley, women account for 24% of engineering and computer professionals.

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One cause of this under-representation is the low percentage of women graduating from technical disciplines. NSF data show that women represent 22.2% of computer science bachelors graduates, and the proportion of women graduating with bachelor’s degrees in engineering has remained around 20% since 2000. The under-representation of women in technical professions, as an overall proportion, matches the availability of the pipeline.

What cannot be solely attributed to pipeline availability is the drastic drop of representation of women in high level technology positions. In 2008, The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology [ www.anitaborg.org ] , in partnership with the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University [ http://www.stanford.edu/group/gender/ ], conducted a study of technical women in high-tech companies, with 1,795 survey respondents from 7 companies in Silicon Valley. In the study, Climbing the Technical Ladder: Obstacles and Solutions for Mid-Level Women in Technology [www.anitaborg.org/news/research], we looked at which technical positions men and women were occupying – entry, mid, or high level. We found that men are 2.7 times more likely to be in a high-level position than are women, and that women are more likely to be in entry level positions.

Thus women in technical professions are experiencing barriers to advancement that cannot be attributed to the pipeline alone. The fact is that they are not reaching top positions at the same rate as men are. Why? In a now infamous 2005 address, Larry Summers http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Summers , Secretary of the Treasury for President Clinton and then President of Harvard University, set off a firestorm of controversy http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2005/01/17/summers_remarks_on_women_draw_fire/ by suggesting that this difference in attainment may be based on a masculine superiority in mathematic and technology ability. However, research disagrees. Indeed, girls’ math scores are now as high as boys, as shown by a recent UC Berkeley study, further discrediting the “ability” argument. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/25/education/25math.html

What our research and the research of most gender points to as the biggest causes for the discrepancy in career attainment for technical men and women are societal and organizational factors. Women face greater barriers to entry, retention, and advancement in technology because they defy stereotypes and because they have to operate within a masculine culture where their “fit” is continuously called into question. This blog will discuss the research and the reality of women working in technology positions. Each week, Telle Whitney, the CEO of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, and I will discuss the barriers facing women in technology and the solutions to their advancement. I will discuss the state of research on women in science and technology, what we know about the barriers they face, and what is shown to make a difference in their advancement. I will provide research-based knowledge and recommendations for the companies who wish to retain and advance their female technical talent. Telle Whitney, a technical woman who reached the top of her profession in industry before becoming the CEO of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, will talk from experience and provide concrete examples of how women overcome these barriers. We look forward to your comments and hearing about your experience, whether you are a man or a woman interested in this issue.

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