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3 Obstacles That Keep Women From Succeeding in Tech

Topics: Work Culture

The gender pay gap exists across all industries, but it’s smallest in tech, according to PayScale’s report, The Truth About the Gender Pay Gap. But, that doesn’t mean that everything is easy for women at tech companies. Various systemic issues in the industry can keep women from succeeding – or even staying – in STEM fields. Here’s what’s holding women back.

boyfriends computer

(Photo Credit: cdsessums/Flickr)

1. Unconscious bias.

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Women coders are rated more highly by their peers, but only when the reviewers don’t know their gender.

Recently, computer science researchers from California Polytechnic State University and North Carolina State University published a study that examined the approval rate by gender of open-source code submissions to GitHub. (If you’re not familiar with how GitHub works, here is a short video that explains it pretty well.)

The more than 12 million people that use GitHub provided a great sample size for collection of this type of data. Of the three million submissions examined, code written by women was approved at a rate of 78.6 percent and male-written code was approved 74.6 percent of the time.

“The higher blind acceptance rate for code written by women is all the more impressive when you consider that men in the open source community overwhelmingly outnumber their female counterparts—who by various estimates make up only 1% to 11% of the population,” writes Amy X. Wang at Quartz

Most shockingly, when female coders specified their gender on their profiles, the acceptance rate fell to 62.5 percent. So, even though female coders may actually be more adept at the job than men, raters are less likely to recognize this competence when they are aware of the coders’ gender. Unconscious bias strikes again.

(It should be noted that this study has yet to undergo peer review.)

2. The gender pay gap.

Although PayScale’s analysis reveals that the gender pay gap is actually smaller in the industry as a whole, it also shows that the gap increases as women move up the corporate ladder. At the executive level, it’s even worse than in non-tech industries – 5.6 percent in tech, vs. 5.4 percent in non-tech.

“If you work in tech and manage to get yourself a good job, the biggest challenge may be finding a work environment where you feel like part of the team, valued equally with the guys,” wrote Anne Krook in the report. “You know there is a gender pay gap out there, even in the supposed meritocracy of tech, and you know that it gets worse as people move into more senior roles, which you will do during your career.”

3. Retention rates.

Last summer, software developer Rachel Thomas wrote a post on Medium about the retention problem in the tech industry. She noted that women leave the field at a rate of 41 percent whereas men find an alternate career path only 17 percent of the time. Thomas feels (and other researchers concur) that the culture of the tech industry has a lot to do with it.

“Because of the high attrition rate for women working in tech, teaching more girls and women to code is not enough to solve this problem,” wrote Thomas. “Because of the above well-documented differences in how men and women are perceived, training women to negotiate better and be more assertive is also not enough to solve this problem. Female voices are perceived as less logical and less persuasive than male voices. Women are perceived negatively for being too assertive. If tech culture is going to change, everyone needs to change, especially men and most especially leaders.”

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What other challenges do women in tech face? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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Hanne Skaarup
Hanne Skaarup

110% agree with this article as a woman in tech for 35 years. Bias (from women too) is alive and well. Have been saying for years, the problem is not qualified women, but rather it is the male-dominated culture of the tech industry.

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