The lack of diversity in terms of gender, race, ethnicity and age is well documented in the technology industry. Public data shared by major tech employers show that women only represent 25 to 45 percent of their entire workforce. The disparity gets worse in technical roles — for the past five years, women have been stuck at 21 percent of technical roles, based on data from the Anita Borg Institute’s Top Companies for Women Technologists survey.
Other underrepresented groups face similarly discouraging participation levels. Hispanic employees hold, at best, 11 percent of jobs, while black workers only account for 2 to 8 percent of jobs at technology companies. Again, representation is even lower in technical roles, with Hispanic workers at 2 to 8 percent and black employees at 1 to 7 percent, according to public diversity data from technology companies.
Women fill many roles in marketing, HR, finance and other departments in the tech industry. This is a positive trend, but it’s never going to be enough to close the gender gap in the industry. Why? Because the biggest job growth at nearly all companies is happening in technical roles. If we continue to discourage women from pursuing technical roles, the gap will only get wider.
It’s 2016 — every company is a tech company
Today, every company is a tech company, and every industry relies on tech to drive efficiency and innovation. Financial institutions, retailers and media companies have growing technical workforces, and across industries, non-technical departments like marketing, HR and finance increasingly demand technical expertise.
Technology’s expansion into all business areas isn’t likely to stop anytime soon, so it’s critical for organizations to focus on recruiting, retaining and advancing diverse and talented people in their technical workforces.
The simple fact is that technical roles present greater and higher-paying job opportunities than other areas. Getting more women and underrepresented groups into technical roles is the key to closing the gap.
Tech jobs move the needle disproportionately
Why is the technical workforce in particular so important? To illustrate, let’s look at a well-known technology player in Silicon Valley, Intel, which released its Diversity and Inclusion Annual Report earlier this year.
As of 2015, women make up 24.8 percent of the company’s overall U.S. workforce. By contrast, women make up only 20.1 percent of Intel’s U.S.-based technical workforce. For context, technical roles make up a whopping 86 percent of Intel’s entire U.S. workforce.
Recruiting, retaining and advancing women technologists isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s the smart thing to do.
Because technical roles represent a vast majority of job opportunities at Intel, the company must focus its diversity efforts in that area first. If Intel’s technical workforce had equal representation of men and woman, gender parity at the company would be a reality today.
Unless companies focus their diversity strategies on technical roles specifically, equal representation of women and men across the organization will remain a pipe dream.
Women face greater barriers and unrealistic standards
Women struggle to land jobs in the technology field, but it doesn’t get easier as they ascend the ladder. The bar is set much higher for their participation, and there is a stubborn perception that women are less skilled at math and science.
To see evidence of this, look no further than the comments made by Sequoia Capital investor Michael Moritz, who suggested that if more talented women in tech existed, they would be hired, but he wasn’t prepared to “lower his standards” to hire for diversity. But what are those “standards”? For women, they involve a degree in CS or engineering, but apparently this standard doesn’t apply to Mr. Moritz, who has a history degree.
This prevailing attitude, and the resulting lack of women in tech, is discouraging. But despite these challenges, we must recognize the great strides women have made in business, leadership and society. For instance, this year, more than half the finalists for Intel’s Science Talent Search were women, and two of the three winners were female.
Women represent half of the world’s intellectual capital and their participation can substantially expand economic growth. Ignoring this fact can be disastrous for organizations. To succeed in a fast-paced, hyper-competitive global marketplace, companies must innovate continuously. And nothing drives innovation like diversity. Recruiting, retaining and advancing women technologists isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s the smart thing to do.