Contributed to EO by Natalie Kaminski, an EO New York member and co-founder and CEO of JetRockets. In observance of the United Nations’ International Day of Women and Girls in Science on 11 February, we asked Natalie to share her view on women in STEM careers, and specifically in her field of computer science. Here’s what she shared:
I immigrated to the US from Israel at the age of 18 with US$500 in my pocket. It was 1998. Between the dotcom boom and Y2K nearly upon us, there were many jobs available in the IT industry. Not having many tech skills, I opted for a role as a Junior QA Tester, and I immediately fell in love with the work! I found it absolutely fascinating that computer programs could solve real problems and make life so much easier and more convenient.
I was unknowingly following in the footsteps of Grace Hopper, Evelyn Boyd Granville, and Margaret Hamilton — female computing pioneers of the 1950s and 60s.
Fast forward two-plus decades, and I’m now the CEO and co-founder of JetRockets, where we develop high-performing web and mobile app solutions that help our clients transform their businesses and grow.
But while many of the industry’s earliest pioneers in electronic computing were women, today the picture looks very different. Although more women than men graduate from college, and the computing world has boomed for decades, only a small fraction of computer programmers are women.
While it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what percentage of software developers are female, all data point to a stark gender gap between men and women. Studies specifically focused on software developers suggest that as few as 8-10% of all software developers are female.
Why are so few women in tech and specifically software development? There is no single answer, but the main reasons include:
1. A drop in women earning computer science degrees
While it is not always necessary to have a degree to get a job as a computer programmer, a computer science degree is one of the most common pathways into the tech field. Fewer women obtaining CS degrees means fewer women becoming software developers.
According to the National Science Foundation, women earned only 19% of computer science degrees in 2016. That’s a significant drop from 1985, when 34% of CS degrees were earned by women. It’s frustrating that this decrease comes at a time when more women overall are graduating college—in fact, more women than men graduate from college in the United States each year now.
One positive development, however, is that more women are seeking graduate degrees in CS than before. In 2016, 31% of CS masters degrees were granted to women, up from 28% in 1997.
2. Lower job retention
Only 38% of women who majored in computer science are currently working in tech, further compounding the gender gap due to fewer degrees. By comparison, 53% of men who majored in computer science are currently working in tech.
While it is not uncommon to see CS graduates wind up in management or consulting, that’s probably not the full story. Women may feel unsupported in their process of moving into a career where so much career advice is geared toward men.
3. Problems with workplace culture
A major obstacle facing many women in tech is an unfriendly, male-dominated culture. While it is difficult to quantify culture, several pieces of information point to common problems that women experience.
A 2017 Pew Research poll found that 50% of women reported gender discrimination at work, compared with 19% of men. This effect was more pronounced for women holding postgraduate degrees, 62% of whom reported some form of gender discrimination. Additionally, 36% of women said that sexual harassment was a problem in their workplace.
Unwelcome cultural environments create situations where women may feel compelled to leave. Often, they may feel they are unfairly passed over for promotion, or assigned work that doesn’t fit their skillsets. Unsurprisingly, many women switch careers after just a few years.
It is important to keep in mind that these are generalities. Not every company has a chauvinistic, male-dominated culture. But those that do may tend to lose their female employees, making it even harder for women to establish a presence there in the future.
4. Lack of representation
Female representation in company culture is crucial in many ways:
- It creates role models for women who may be on the fence about pursuing the industry.
- It provides opportunities for mentorship.
- It gives women a voice in organizational decision-making.
The fact that there are not enough women in tech, therefore, makes it more difficult to increase the number of women in tech. A lack of strong female representation creates a vicious circle that maintains the status quo.
An employment gap now means an employment gap later. Although women make up 47% of the US workforce, in 2015, they held only 25% of computing jobs — in a time when tech is booming and has been for decades.
What we can do about it
As a mother of two girls ages 16 and 9, I make a point that they know and understand that there is nothing intrinsically masculine about writing code. I often share with them that there are many strong reasons for women to consider a career in the science, technology, economic or math (STEM) fields. I encourage you to do the same.
Here are five reasons to consider a STEM career that I share with my daughters and other young women:
- Job security. There’s high demand for STEM jobs and they usually come with good salaries, so you’ll have financial stability and independence.
- Brain power. STEM careers are all about solving problems and being creative. You’ll have the chance to make a real impact and change the world for the better.
- Career progression. The world of STEM is constantly changing, so you’ll always have opportunities to learn and grow in your career. You could even pursue a leadership role.
- Something for everyone. STEM covers a lot of different fields, so no matter what you’re interested in, there’s something for you.
- Making a difference. You’ll get to work on projects that improve people’s lives and make a positive impact on the world. It doesn’t get much better than that!
As a woman in a STEM career and leadership role, I strongly encourage you to promote STEM learning and exploration among the young women in your community. It’s up to us to reverse the vicious cycle of gender underrepresentation in STEM fields into a positive cycle of representation, gender diversity and inclusion.
Portions of this post originally appeared on the JetRockets blog and are reprinted here with permission.
Don’t miss EO’s 2023 EmpowHER virtual series on 7, 14 and 21 March (the first three Tuesdays of the month). EmpowHER invites women entrepreneurs to hear inspiring stories from fellow founders—including Brian Smith, founder of UGG Australia; Aanchal Bhatia, founder of Sydenham Clinic, Hannah Vasicek, founder of Francesca, and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, former prime minister of Denmark—during a series of virtual events that are free and open to EO members, EO Accelerators, their companies, and prospective EO members. Register today!