The ballooning gender divide in the tech industry

Women have long been and still are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations.
9 March 2021 | 444 Shares

The rising gender gap in the tech industry. Source: Shutterstock

  • STEM fields, particularly technology, remain heavily male-dominated and women make less than men
  • Normalizing the atmosphere around women in STEM careers might help young women see it as a career choice open to every woman
  • Organizational strategies to recruit, retain, and advance women in STEM occupations can help address these issues

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations are expected to experience rapid growth in the coming decade. However, a gender gap in STEM persists across the world and the dearth of female employees in the technology field particularly is a symptom. The gap begins in education, fueled by gender stereotypes and expectations regarding “women’s work”.

Ironically, now more than ever, girls are studying and excelling in science and technology. Yet, the dramatic increase in girls’ educational achievements in the related subjects has not been matched by similar increases in the representation of women working as technology professionals.

Once in the workforce, institutional bias can lead to more women leaving STEM occupations. This, in turn, can reduce diversity and further reinforce biases in new technology like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). AI reflects the embedded values of its society as determined by its coders, so structural gender and racial inequalities can unconsciously feed into the assumptions and algorithms employed – producing results that reflect these biases.

That being said, if we do not have enough women entering STEM degrees and remaining in STEM occupations, we can’t ensure that technologies account for women as the result will reflect the inputs. Hence why there is still much work to do to figure out how we can repackage the STEM areas to appeal to women and then transparently encourage and foster their career and life choices.

Towards gender equality in STEM

A report quoting Signavio’s Solution Owner, Henny Selig, indicated that there are many negative examples that show that homogeneous tech teams do not represent the totality of people in their developed products.  “Even if we can get more women to work in tech, the challenge remains to keep them there,” she said.

In particular, businesses have to take a greater role in helping to reduce the ingrained differences in the skills that women gain and develop during their academic studies, and therefore in the jobs, they go on to take. Deloitte in a report highlighted a few highly recommended courses of action to achieve gender parity in the tech field which is; to provide educators and policymakers with practical careers and provide more support for women returning to work.

“We recommend that businesses educate the educators about the shift that is needed from acquiring knowledge to developing the technical, creative, management, and practical problem-solving skills that human workers will need to complement technologies like AI. Besides that, a large majority of women with expertise in STEM subjects are not working in industries that require these skills. The consequences of this ‘missing talent’ are two-fold: a disproportionate number of women are working in roles that are not well paid, and the economy as a whole is missing out on a hugely valuable pool of ideas and skills,” the report reads.

Part of the challenge is that many women cannot participate in STEM-based occupations in a flexible way, balancing the often-competing pressures of work and home life. Deloitte recommends, therefore, that businesses develop or strengthen programs for helping mothers transition back into work and examine the further potential for using technology to help more people work flexibly.