Infigo Software UK has a 30% female workforce. By no means do we think this is enough, but we are pleased that we are well above the national average of 17%. Of this national figure, less than 10% are in a leadership position, and only a shocking 4% make up software engineers.
There’s a number of reasons these figures are so poor, however it is widely thought to be down to two defining causes; the failure of the pipeline supply – that’s a failure of women to study computer science or tech; and poor retention numbers once women do enter the workplace.
There are signs that the number of women in the computer science and tech industry is growing, however; women today are 33% more likely to study computer science subjects than those that were born before 1983. But being more likely to study computer science doesn’t mean that the fall in numbers of 50% has been adequately redressed. Indeed, in the US, the ratio between men and women who study computer science is 84% to 16%. Clearly this is inadequate and needs addressing.
Once women reach the workplace, retention is the next major contributing factor, which falls in to the danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Women can feel isolated, find maintaining confidence in the field difficult, and struggle with a lack of mentors and role models. It should be noted that this is perhaps at its worst in the UK and the USA, which is ironic as it was in these societies that, when computers and programming was first introduced to the workplace, the work was dominated by women, primarily because it was seen as menial and labour intensive. Once advancements in computing and software jumped forward, it would be natural to think that, given that women formed most of the workforce, that they would become the industry leaders, but in fact the opposite was true. The major shift from a female dominated workforce to a male one can be attributed to the arrival of the home computer in the 1980s and the surrounding marketing campaigns that these were techie toys for boys. This was a new frontier and it needed pioneers.
The parallels between the Wild West and Silicon Valley have never been lost to the outside observer. This time the frontier was conquered by tech nerds though, they felt like the wilds men of old. Indeed, Silicon Valley coders and creators not only thought of themselves as Wild West frontiersmen, their language and office culture reinforced this image. They are outsiders, working in packs who make killer apps and smash or crush code. Venture capitalist and start up whisperer Paul Graham remarks “These are fierce nerds. You have to be somewhat intimidating-looking, and that's what these guys are,” he said in a 2012 NPR interview. “They're like the kind of people Julius Caesar was afraid of.” Just saying this supports the idea that women aren’t cut out for technology and helps to propagate the belief that it is an environment and industry suited more to men.
A brief look at the industry abroad soon dispels this myth and reveals the arguments that this is an industry for men, to be an unhelpful distraction. In India, the percentage of women programmers is at 30% which is a remarkable achievement given the barriers to education and opportunity that that exist in India and not in the UK or the USA.
This reinforces the idea that here, we need to work harder as advocates of opportunities for women – it is not an issue of suitability but one of historical norms and culture.
At Infigo Software we are proud to be pushing against the historical and cultural norms; indeed, we are currently recruiting for three new positions and if these can all be filled by women, we will be that much closer to a 50/50 gender balance and a truer representation of society.
Thea Oliver. TechnicallyCompatible.com. AN IN DEPTH LOOK AT THE GENDER GAP IN THE TECH INDUSTRY.
Vikram Chandra. What India can teach Silicon Valley about it’s Gender Problem.