Boardroom or Baby? Why are there so few women in tech?

August 26, 2014

As has been widely reported, Silicon Valley tech companies who recently released diversity numbers show there to be a continuing and staggering lack of diversity in our industry.

Apple revealed that 7 out of 10 employees are male and 55% are white. Google and Facebook have approximately the same self-reported diversity figures.

Here at AVG we have a 28% female contribution to our staff. Interestingly enough, the latest (ISC)2 workforce study, published in spring 2013,  shows that the information security industry reports only 10% of its professionals are female.

I’ve had a long career in technology. I’ve been very fortunate in both the people I’ve worked with and the dynamic companies I’ve been involved in.  Mine has been a rewarding career.

But what I’d like to write about today is this startling absence of women in technology. This is a problem for both women and for the tech industry: women bring many skill sets to the tech table, but are often, self-selected or otherwise, excluded from the technology field. I’m not just talking about the lack of CEOs, although that’s certainly the case. It runs down the line, from the boardroom to coders to analysts and marketers.

I speak from experience, because I’ve found myself still being one of the few, if not only females at conference tables and in executive suites.

It is heartening to see some of our tech giants finally acknowledging the issue and trying to diversify. In June, for instance, Google announced a program to get more women into tech. It announced a $50 million fund to encourage girls to take up computer science in college and other grants and programs.  The “Made with Code” campaign is in partnership with Girls Who Code, a nonprofit organization that runs summer coding schools for girls, and The Clinton Foundation, whose No Ceilings project aims to promote full participation by girls and women in all aspects of society.  You can read about it here.

These leading tech companies realize they need women. They need an employee base that reflects the adopters and purchasers of their products and services. That’s one basic rule for a company’s success: look like your customer! And women are increasingly the early adopters of tech, in virtually every category, as demonstrated in a recent study by Intel’s Genevieve Bell. Tech companies overall also have a major employee shortage and obviously women could help fill that gap.

There remains an indisputable gap between the number of male and female employees in technology and we need more women working at tech companies to close that gap, for the health of the industry as well as society.

But let’s face it, there is always going to be a perception that women will start a family and leave the workplace. This was made painfully clear just recently, when, as reported in the Huffington Post, Toronto editor and coder Lyndsay Kirkham live-tweeted alleged sexist remarks about women in the workplace, made by two men and a woman whom she identified as IBM executives that she sat next to at a restaurant. Kirkham claims the execs made statements regarding why they don’t hire women. “Apparently IBM doesn’t like hiring young women because they are just going to get themselves pregnant again and again and again,” she tweeted.

As professional women, many of us have worked hard to change this perception. Nevertheless this perception is one more roadblock to our success.

Our problem is institutional, cultural and one that has grave implications not only for women but also for the tech industry.

I’ve applied to speak on the topic “Boardroom or Baby” at next year’s SXSW Summit. You can support me and continue to raise awareness for the issue by going here to vote for my presentation! This isn’t just a women’s issue. It is an issue for anyone with daughters, nieces, mothers and women who are or want to be in the workplace. This issue impacts society and ultimately the success of tech long term.

Vote for Judith’s Session at SXSW 2015

Judith Bitterli: Boardroom or Baby

August 26, 2014