One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

It has been no secret that women are underrepresented in STEM fields. By some estimates it ranges from 15-20% of the workforce . . . and this at a time when industry is desperate for skilled employees in the STEM areas. There have been ongoing efforts to increase the numbers of females in technology to the point that many people have felt that we are making progress in that area. It was therefore disturbing to read an article in the LA Times “Women are Leaving the Tech Industry in Droves”. (Lien, 2015) What happened?

The problem seems to be that while we have been somewhat successful in increasing the number of females in the STEM pipeline, it is like filling a bucket that has an increasing number of holes in it. We will never be able to attain parity with males in the tech industry if females continue to exit in growing numbers. Lien writes that “That’s a huge problem for the tech economy . . . 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.”

Rosie the Riverter

So what’s behind the exodus of women from technology? It isn’t a lack of interest or talent, nor is it ignorance on the part of employers . . . they can see the talent bleed on a monthly basis as women cash in their chips and head out the door. The problem, according to a study noted by Lien, is the ongoing sexism that is exhibited towards females in the tech industry. No one can seem to put a finger on a glaring cause for this, there just seems to be a general undertone of unacceptance of females into the tech culture.

So, what can be done to fill all those holes in the bucket? Organizations have tried mentoring programs, diversity training, flex time and other efforts, but nothing will really work until the biases that keep women pushed down or held back are eliminated in the corporate world. Sound familiar? It should since that has been going on in many STEM areas over the years.