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Why the Gender Gap Matters

Simon Eskow, TechBlog Editor. 24 February 2015, 10:51 am
Why the Gender Gap Matters

Anecdotal and statistical evidence shows the gender gap in the sciences and technology is hardly closing. 

In fact, an article in the Los Angeles Times published last week, referencing research by the Harvard Business School, states that the tech sector is losing women to better opportunities in more welcoming sectors: 

For decades tech companies have relied on a workforce of whites and Asians, most of them men.

Plenty of programs now encourage girls and minorities to embrace technology at a young age. But amid all the publicity for those efforts, one truth is little discussed: Qualified women are leaving the tech industry in droves.

The Harvard studies, conducted in 2008 and updated last year, show women leave the industry sooner and in greater numbers than men. Up to 50 per cent of women working in science, engineering and technology will leave because of hostile work environments:

Gender bias is the common denominator, manifesting in cultures hostile to women: the "lab-coat culture" in science that glorifies extreme hours spent toiling over experiments and penalizes people who need the flexibility to, say, pick up their kids from day care; engineering's "hard-hat culture" whose pervasive maleness makes women do a "whistle-check" on their work clothes to avoid a barrage of catcalls; and tech's "geek workplace culture" that women in our study often compared to a super-competitive fraternity of arrogant nerds. These cultures marginalize women, making them feel isolated: 21% of U.S. women in science say they experience "lab-coat cultures"; 25% in engineering face "hard-hat cultures"; and 31% in tech face "geek workplace cultures." 

The reason why the gender gap is significant to the tech industry is a simple matter of filling vacancies. As the Los Angeles Times points out, referencing Code.Org about the US:  

...computing jobs will more than double by 2020, to 1.4 million. If women continue to leave the field, an already dire shortage of qualified tech workers will grow worse. Last summer, Google, Facebook, Apple and other big tech companies released figures showing that men outnumbered women 4 to 1 or more in their technical sectors.

The story has been the same for New Zealand. As an October, 2014 article in the Herald notes:

Information technology consultant and academic Garry Roberton follows the trends in tertiary study and has documented the fall in IT enrolments, blogging recently that "past efforts to increase female tertiary enrolments into ICT-related programmes appear to have made little difference so far, with the female-to-male ratio intractably stuck at 20:80".
More's the pity, because there are plenty of well-paid jobs out there for anyone with solid IT prowess, plus great written and verbal communication skills.


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