Silicon Valley has long been a man’s field. Recently, Google and a plethora of other technology giants have come under fire for the distinct lack of female representation in their workforces.
Google owned up to such media criticisms by releasing demographic data showing that a mere 30% of its employees are female. Female representation amongst high-level executives at Google is even slimmer, with women filling only 3 of the company’s 18 executive and senior leadership positions.
In light of Google’s demographic revelation, other colossal tech companies received inquiries with a much-increased demand for transparency–one that companies have met with reluctance. As critics suspected, these companies’ demographic reports paint a nearly identical picture of female underrepresentation: women constitute just 30% of employees at Apple and Twitter and 31% at Facebook.
In response to these troubling diversity statistics, Google has initiated workshops that aim to make their workplace culture more welcoming to women and to eliminate gender bias. On their diversity webpage, the company states that in 2013, more than 20,000 Googlers “engaged in workshops that focus on the science of how the brain works.” Google theorizes that its practices and employees are not intentionally discriminatory, but that unconscious gender bias regarding women in technology is the cause of any unequal treatment.
The underrepresentation of women in computer science is proving challenging to counteract, not only because of historical and unconscious biases, but also because of the scarcity of women pursuing technological degrees in college. Women represent a measly 18% of computer science degree recipients in American universities.
With so few women pursuing technological sciences in college, achieving an equal male to female ratio is proving challenging for tech companies like Google. Yet, in an era in which women have made enormous leaps in politics, medicine and other traditionally male disciplines, it is hard for many people to comprehend just why there has been such a significant lag in women strengthening their technology presence.
According to data from the 2008-2010 American Community Survey, women make up 50% of young (age 25-29) doctors and lawyers, a much larger percentage than that seen in technology. Carroll School of Management Professor Robert Fichman explains that for these disciplines, “the situation is much different. Women have historically been better represented in the programs that traditionally feed into political careers, such as the humanities, political science, and law.”
Even as we gradually see growth in the number of women earning technology degrees, we will not likely see a remarkable increase in female leadership for decades. Professor Fichman elaborates, “Although there certainly are exceptions, people who attain high leadership positions are usually in their 40s and 50s. So you need to look at how things were 20-30 years ago to understand where we are now.”
According to Fichman’s theory, it is of paramount importance that more young women get involved in technology now if we are to see more female leadership in the future. With this objective Google has established their Getting Girls to Code program, an initiative intended to change girls’ perceptions of computer science and root out its reputation as a predominately male field. It has also implemented similar female-focused programs that serve to create a community amongst women within the company and aid them in their professional development.
So, while at present women like Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg are anomalies, companies are hoping this will change. In a male-dominated profession, Mayer and Sandberg may well just be the tip of a gradually rising rank of computing women.