Why are so few women working in the tech industry?
A Google search for that question turns up about 154 million results, but no simple answers.
The state of gender equity in the tech sector is, in a word, poor. Women make up roughly half of the American workforce overall, but just a quarter of the information technology workforce. That actually represents lost ground over time – women made up 36 percent of the IT workforce back in the early 1990s.
The data indicate that this lack of diversity isn’t a matter of personal preference (for those tempted to theorize that girls just don’t want to work in tech), but rather a matter of barriers and glass ceilings.
Those barriers pop up early – roughly 57 percent of middle school girls express interest in a career in either science, technology, engineering or math in middle school – and yet, only about 12 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer science are earned by women. And the barriers continue to pile up after graduation, as very few companies have goals around gender diversity (two-thirds do not). Even venture capital funding goes mostly to male-founded start-ups (odd, considering that women-owned tech companies average 35 percent higher annual revenues than those owned by men.
Is it any wonder that women who work in the tech sector report feeling isolated at the office? Or that they feel less confident in their abilities, or less assured about their career trajectory?
There are countless thinkpieces, listicles, blog posts, and social media networks focused on answering that original question – why are so few women working in the tech industry? At Saxony Partners, we don’t have any simple answers to that question, either. But we are nevertheless committed to creating a diverse, equitable, balanced community of employees.
It’s a goal that we are still striving toward – we are not where we want or need to be, yet. But as International Women’s Day approaches, we want to celebrate the women of Saxony and share their stories about how they forged their careers in this historically patriarchal industry.
Describe what you do at Saxony Partners:
Charity Wilson (senior consultant): In short, I help companies derive insights from their data. There are a few tools I use to do this, namely the software platforms Alteryx and R. Being an economist by education, I have that economist’s toolbelt to help me understand relationships within the data.
Christine Vela (business development representative for Pereview Software): I’m new to Saxony and Pereview Software. My main day-to-day responsibility is contacting private equity and commercial real estate prospects and guide them through our sales process.
ShinYi Tan (senior consultant/web developer): As a senior consultant specializing in application development, I aid in both the analysis and creation of custom software with the purpose of accelerating our clients’ success at obtaining their industry specific goals. I build custom solutions either from the ground up or modify and improve upon existing implementations.
Anne Escobedo (senior consultant/manager): I assist with and manage projects, primarily in the real estate world, with a focus on Yardi property management software. And work with clients on implementations, upgrades, and day to day administration of their databases.
Miriam Hayashi (office manager): I support and oversee operations, human resources, benefits administration, accounts receivable, quarterly events, and office administration. I also provide executive support with payroll, government compliance, audits, accounts payable, forecasting and special projects.
Natalie Roberts (senior consultant): I wear multiple hats as a consultant, including business analyst and project manager. I assist in the delivery of technical solutions to a specific project or for a client. My skillset includes strategic thinking, strong communications and organizational skills, as well as data analysis, assessment, and interpretation.
What inspired your interest in tech as a career:
ShinYi Tan: I once took a computer science elective in high school. Despite having taught myself HTML and CSS since I was ten, I did not have the faintest idea what the term “computer science” entailed. All I knew was that the class was scaled 0.5 GPA points higher than most electives. That’s how I signed up for what turned out to be one of the most difficult classes I had ever taken. A year after graduation, I began seeing advertisements for local coding boot camps. I had already been doing some illustrations for the developers of a mobile gaming start-up, and I took it as a sign. So, I decided to spend all my savings to go and do what I didn’t in college: I fast-tracked myself into a career in consulting and tech.
Charity Wilson: Onche Ugbabe, a high school classmate, was my role model. He went on to attend Harvard for his MBA and then to McKinsey and Company, where he worked as a management consultant. He inspired me to get my MBA. And when I was working on that MBA, I stumbled into analytics. My first class in the program was economics, and on the last day of class, the professor talked all about data and data analysis. His words echoed around in my brain more and more, until I decided to make a career out of data analysis.
Anne Escobedo: I stumbled into this role. I always had an interest in the technical side of how things work, but my best option out of college was to work with my sister-in-law in the property management industry. I worked directly for her as a leasing agent and grew within the company to become a property manager myself. During this time, I became a super-user of the software Yardi and often was the “guinea pig” for testing – chosen to pilot new endeavors, called upon by my peers for assistance. I moved to a new state, and decided I wanted a job where I could work on the back side of the industry instead of tenant facing. I was presented with an awesome opportunity to learn and grow in the consulting realm, and the rest is history.
Miriam Hayashi: After 17 years in the construction industry, honestly, I wanted to change my surroundings. I wanted to surround myself with people who have ambitious career goals and visions for the future. I truly enjoyed supporting hundreds of construction workers during my tenure and was ready to support techy-types which I hoped would bring a refreshing new string of challenges. And it has.
Natalie Roberts: I believe that a combination of education and experience influenced my direction. My path to get to where I am today started in grade school, where I was encouraged by my parents to be disciplined and focused in school. My dedication to my studies would allow for me to complete high school and attend college by the time I was 16 years old. I went to college for two years and then decided to join the military, where my academic achievements landed me a highly specialized position that, ultimately, prepared me for the position I have today. In the Air Force, I was a data systems analyst and received training on system architecture, data analysis, documentation protocol, computer systems development lifecycle, and so forth. I completed my undergraduate degree while in the military and, when I exited the military, obtained a graduate and doctorate degree.
Did being a woman give you pause about pursing this career path:
ShinYi Tan: I’ve always felt like a minority, given my circumstances as an Asian in America – so the idea of being a woman in a male-dominated industry never really crossed my mind. I knew what I enjoyed doing, and I knew that nothing would stop me from doing it.
Anne Escobedo: Early in my career, I worked in female-dominated industry being a property manager. It wasn’t until I ventured into technology that I was ever outnumbered by male counterparts. At that point in my career, I had my niche, and I knew that I did it well, so it didn’t play a factor in my decisions.
Christine Vela: I’m new to the industry and still learning my way around it, but it certainly does look like a male-dominated industry. I started my career in advertising, then moved into the trade show and photography industries before jumping into sales. Sales is a very rewarding career, but it takes a thick skin, persistence, and an unrelenting desire to succeed. I had a mass communications degree from Emerson College, so I felt confident that I was ready for this step and was the right fit for this role.
Charity Wilson: Yes and no. I have never accepted other people’s visions of what it means to be a woman. I don’t fit neatly into other people’s gender norms. So, of course I would work in an industry that is traditionally male dominated! It’s hard working in a field that most women see as unattainable. The fact that its male-dominated isn’t a huge issue today. I work with a great group of guys and my co-workers see me for who I am. But fellow women look at me askance for my career choice. “You work in consulting? How does that work with kids? How can I do that to my children?” The truth is, I chose a company that doesn’t require me to travel a lot. I have more availability for my teens in this job than I’ve had previously. If I am getting to all my meetings, and getting everything done, no one cares if I work in the office or at home.
Miriam Hayashi: Not for one nanosecond. Perhaps having worked the past two decades in a heavily male-dominated industry took the edge off when considering entering the IT space. In reality, there are far more women here at Saxony than at my previous employment. There, I managed mainly men.
What barriers have you come up against as a woman in this industry:
Anne Escobedo: I have been questioned about my ability to perform a job based on the fact that I have children. When resourcing projects, I have been singled out before assignment to ensure I was willing to travel since I have small children. I feel very strongly that I was passed over for a promotion while on maternity leave with my second child. The promotion came, but it happened about six months later than I anticipated. On the other hand, I have been very appreciative of the leniency given to me because I have children. All in all, I’ve rolled with the punches, and do my best to balance life, family and work.
Charity Wilson: As a woman working in corporate America, it is very hard to climb the career ladder. My skill sets are technical in nature and I didn’t have a lot of options that would allow me to flourish. There is something to be said for working and embedded within a company. When I was embedded at a company, I knew their data backwards and forwards. I knew who to reach out to, and how to get things done. But now there is something completely different about being a consultant! There is a level of respect I’m afforded now that I wasn’t afforded before. Before, I was trusted by my colleagues who knew the quality of my work. Now, there is a lot more trust and faith that is put in my work since my company stands behind it. It allows me to be the confident, brilliant woman that I know I am. Saxony’s faith in me allows me to show the world who I really am.
Miriam Hayashi: Since I predominantly work behind the scenes, I have not come up against any notable barriers that some of my more forward-facing female coworkers might have encountered.
What do older and younger generations of women need to hear before they follow in your footsteps:
ShinYi Tan: I think the largest barrier that women face in entering the tech field is this human nature to default to what we already know. Because society has already created this unspoken dichotomous hierarchy between genders, both men and women have been conditioned to this norm. That is to say, more men tend to take more technical career paths because that’s how it typically is. To overcome this, I believe that men and women need to recognize two things. One, the past is not the indicator of that the future will be. Change is possible and it’s inevitable. Two, the value of the female voice and perspective. Diversity and inclusion breeds innovation, and that alone should be reason enough to welcome women into this field.
Christine Vela: I feel women offer a different real-time perspective, especially as it equates to the workplace. Being a single mother, I have to balance work and raising my son. But I am accomplishing my goals and confident in my career choice here.
Miriam Hayashi: Older generations of women need to know it was their trailblazing (in thought, action, intention) that set the stage for the current generation to establish their presence in previously male-dominated roles. The younger generations of women need to know that a continuous and actionable effort must continue to be made in order to maintain our momentum until it reaches a stable equilibrium. From a personal perspective, I believe gender balance leads to more fulfillment, as both men and women can rest assured they are being adequately compensated for their work without it being hindered by gender. From a company perspective, gender balance provides a more well-rounded corporate culture, which ultimately drives talent acquisition, employee retention, productivity and growth in the bottom line.
If you could go back and give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be:
ShinYi Tan: Considering that I am quite proud of what my younger self has done to push herself into becoming who I am today, I would rather have her give me advice! I hope she would serve as a reminder to my current self to keep pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone, to create opportunities for myself instead of waiting for them, and to continue living without regrets.
Christine Vela: I wish I had been a little more adventurous when I was younger and took more risks in my career.
Miriam Hayashi: My advice would be to never wait for things to happen by the sheer good will of the universe – go after it! I’d tell myself, Miriam, you will not get what you don’t ask for.
Natalie Roberts: Be open to evolving in your career. There are myriad of different skills that may be required to work as a business administrator or project manager. Keep in mind that to evolve with your career may call for continuing education or training to ensure that your skills stay up with the technology.
Charity Wilson: There are several pieces of advice I’d give my former self. One, quit living for other people. Two, you are the only person who can take care of you. Three, you can do anything you set your mind to. Four, get in there and do the hard things. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. When it’s hard, to keep pressing forward, gently. And finally, wear clothes that put a smile on your face. If you feel confident and at ease in your clothes, then people will respond to you better.