Lack of Women in Tech: Addressing the Issue

What stops women from pursuing careers in technology? This article examines the causes of and possible solutions to this issue.

This article was written by Helene Berkowitz, a fintech professional with 15 years’ experience in finance and business operations. Passionate about female empowerment, work/life balance and career development.

Fintech: the technology that makes the financial services industry run more efficiently.  Fintech is made up of software developers, computer programmers and engineers, working with banks, investment firms and tech companies, all evaluating ways to improve the world of finance. The fintech industry simply cannot exist without the technology sector.

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However, there is a large gap between the numbers of men and women working in tech. We know it exists, we read about it and we talk about it, but let’s face it: there aren’t enough solutions out there. It’s time we not only recognized the problem, but fixed it.

First the why

From the perspective of employers, the low number of women in tech isn’t due to a desire for a completely male-driven workforce or uninterested female tech talent, but rather due to insufficient applicants with relevant experience and a lack of serious skills.

Erez Shermer, CTO of qSpark LTD, a software company operating from central Tel Aviv, says that when recruiting tech talent, he receives few resumes from female applicants. “Maybe 5% of CVs are from women, 1 out of 20, and often they do not have enough of the qualifications I’ve asked for,” Shermer said.

There are talented women who some companies never meet, let alone hire

Jo Friedman, VP Product Development at AudioAddict, has had similar hiring experiences. Friedman and her recruitment team try to focus on hiring more women.  During one hiring round, Friedman saw “out of 300-400 resumes, perhaps 4 women applied and out of those, 2 had relevant experience.”  Studies show that approximately 10% of developers are women, but Friedman personally sees numbers “closer to 1%”.

From the perspective of employees, inflexible working conditions (more on this later) is a leading cause for some, while for others, a lack of female executives and role models can stump women’s career growth.

A little history

The historical role of women as primary caregivers is certainly a factor affecting female talent in the tech sector.  As society has adapted to female workers taking on roles traditionally held by men, family life hasn’t changed as much in order to meet the needs of working mothers. Women are most often the ones in charge of childcare, doctor appointments, school functions, while working full-time – the essence of work/life balance.

Maayan Arbel, DevOps specialist and volunteer for female software developer communities, believes that this is simply due to the way that work culture has changed over time.  “It was the same way with doctors and lawyers many years ago.”  She noted that women are often discouraged from getting into technical fields to begin with.  As a young woman wanting to study computers, she had family support, but still had to fight for a career in tech.  According to Arbel, few women have the strength for it because technical positions are often considered ‘manly’, “like the guy who comes to your house to fix your computer”, whereas women are expected to be dependent and feminine.

Chedva Haber, Front End Developer, sees things similarly.  “In college, I was among a very few number of girls interested in tech studies; it was predominantly male.”  In her current role, Haber often has only one other female developer to work with, if at all.  “I’m unsure if it just isn’t encouraged or if women simply don’t think about it (getting into tech), but they focus on positions seen as more feminine, such as social work or teaching.”  This is a common line of thought among the female tech crowd.

At the university level

According to Shermer, statistics show that more than 50% of computer science majors in Israel are women. If half the students are women, why do the numbers of female tech graduates decrease post-graduation?  Where do they go?

Haber believes that many women study computer science or software development, but later decide to do something else.  Sometimes they realize that the tech world is different than they thought it would be, other times there are serious flexibility concerns.  Not surprisingly, this often occurs during the child-bearing years.

What stops women from pursuing careers in tech?

An anonymous security architect interviewed for this article said: “Women tend to stay in the same job for lengthy periods of time.  They don’t advance their careers in tech, but continue at the same level for 10-20 years.”

This source believes that 25% -30% of skilled tech people are women.  However, they tend to “accept positions in QA or technical writing and don’t pursue development roles”.  Asked why this is the case, the interviewee stated: “Maybe they’re afraid to pursue management positions or are scared to take on responsibilities, whereas men look further to move up to senior-level roles and aren’t afraid to take risks”.  She suggested that there is a gap between where companies recruit and where women search for jobs.

Men push for programmer positions as their first job, but women tend to start smaller

Tzipporah W., full-stack developer, says: “Family status affects people more than gender.  There is a lack of good tech roles for parents”.  When she attends tech events, she is often in the minority, one of very few women in the room. This can be intimidating to some women and can cause them to hold themselves back from attending important networking and industry events.

Friedman mentioned that many women hold themselves back from applying for tech jobs if they don’t meet exact qualifications, whereas their male counterparts will apply even without fulfilling 100% of the requirements.

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Arbel shared similar views: “Women tend to humble themselves more than their male counterparts do.  Compare resumes from men vs. women; they simply don’t look the same.  Women are encouraged to dumb down their skills, and female professionals in executive positions are seen as bitchy, whereas their male counterparts who display the same behaviors are considered powerful.  Women study tech and then pursue something else due to a lack of confidence.  They make career changes and move to more flexible fields, or fear prevents them from going for the big positions.”

She sees women starting post-degree work choosing secretarial or QA roles.  Men push for programmer positions as their first job, but women tend to start smaller.  Arbel believes that placement agencies encourage women to start in smaller positions, as well.  This kind of career behavior limits women and discourages them from aiming higher.

Sometimes, women feel stumped in tech careers because they don’t have the relevant university degree that companies want.  However, this is less relevant in the technology sector, where skills are often developed during youth through the teenage years.

It’s not uncommon for people to start young and work their way up, gaining more experience and developing stronger skills along the way.  Arbel mentioned: “Women who are strong in this field were likely encouraged by their fathers, brothers, husbands or other important men in their lives, but not enough women had that as young girls.

The Flexibility Issue

Many fintech companies, investment brokers and payment providers have a conservative, often outdated approach.  They may believe in product innovation, but lack ‘internal innovation’, meaning hiring practices and career development.

For many young professionals, flexibility is one of the most important issues in choosing a tech-based career path.  The reputation of 10+ hour workdays (often including weekends) is a huge factor not only among women, but also for men who have families and singles who want a personal life.

If half the students are women, why do the numbers of female tech graduates decrease post-graduation?  Where do they go?

If you’ve been to any kind of networking event, look around the room and see how many working mothers are in attendance.  The numbers are always extremely low, and that is because of the timing.  Holding events at 18:00 just doesn’t work for young parents. This phenomenon has paved the way for a solution known as ‘The 3-Hour Embargo’.  Created by Zoe Bermant and promoted by ImaKadima, a non-profit organization supporting career-minded mothers in Israel, the idea is to save the 16:00 – 19:00 hours for family time, when working parents get home.

Business events and meetups are scheduled later in the evenings (generally 20:00-20:30), hours that are more convenient for working parents.  For working parents, earlier hours are incompatible with family life. The 3-Hour Embargo offers flexibility and allows professionals with young children to more easily participate in important networking opportunities.

There are talented women who some companies never meet, let alone hire, because of rigid or outdated hiring practices. One fintech startup interviewed a web designer who brought her newborn baby to the interview.  The candidate had excellent skills and was a great fit for the company.  During the interview, she had to pause to feed and care for her child, something virtually unheard of in the corporate world.  Had the interviewer dismissed her because of her family situation, they would have lost out on a highly skilled employee.

According to Haber: “Companies want office time, and flexibility can be problematic due to security concerns, such as connecting to the codebase via a non-secure home connection.”  She believes there are some family-friendly companies, but long commutes are a problem for everyone, more so for working parents.

Shermer says: “Flexibility is there; it just depends on the kind of company you have.” His team works at their office during the day, sometimes continuing at night and doing some work from home on occasion.  However, this is the exception and not what seems to be the norm.

Friedman stated that her company “is very flexible. Most of the male employees have kids and a personal life. It’s a very parent-friendly environment”.  Even so, women do a lot of juggling with family and career, a universal issue not limited only to the tech industry. In Israel, army service is a highly valued skill in the tech world.  Friedman stated: “For those who don’t come from Unit 8200 (the Israeli Army Intelligence Corps unit) or other computer units in the army, it can be very difficult”.

Arbel believes that flexibility depends on each company. Today, more employers are becoming flexible with less focus on an exact schedule, as long as the work gets done.  She said: “Women in higher positions tend to be the ones changing this for the better”.

A different viewpoint: “The child-bearing years become a concern as girls get older and consider family, yet women can and should negotiate for more flexibility. The more highly skilled you are, the better options you’ll have”. This is less likely to be a concern in the 18-year old crowd, as “they’re more worried about sitting in front of a computer all day and not interacting with people.”

On entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurs are a unique bunch.  They find market weaknesses or stagnant processes and the next thing you know, a new startup is born!  There may be millions of investment money flowing through Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv, but for female-led startups, the struggle to get funding and serious investors is that much more challenging.

Miriam Lottner created a new initiative called She.Fund, a funding platform created by women, managed by women, funding projects led by women.  Lottner says: “It seems impossible that in a Western Democracy where a woman has already held positions of both Prime Minister and President, that the percentage of women receiving business funding is hovering at less than 3%. Israel’s workforce is about 50% female, our funding should be, too – both the source of the funds and the companies being funded.”

Correcting the problem – change is needed

We’ve identified the causes and struggles for women in tech. Now let’s focus on improving the situation and recruiting more female talent.

  • Start young. Tech giants like Google and Facebook offer programs to teach kids computer skills.  Smaller tech companies can get on board and promote education like the Girls Who Code.
  • Educate. Make tech appealing as a future career option. Show kids how they interact throughout the day with machines that are programmed by other people.  Teach girls that they can create this themselves.
  • Be flexible. Companies that offer flexible schedules are more likely to attract talented female fintech professionals and skilled developers.
  • Fund. More female entrepreneurs. By investing in women-led startups, we will fuel the startup ecosystem and promote tech as an option.
  • Get more men involved. Men in tech roles can offer to work on projects with female colleagues, mentor new hires and work together.  Inclusion and teamwork are key.

 

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