We Need to Rethink How We Bring Women in Tech

A women in tech working on computer

Tech has a woman problem.

Actually, tech has a lot of woman problems.

The percentage of computer science degrees earned by women is too small (25%).

The percentage of jobs held by women in the field is shrinking (down to 25% from a high of 36% in the 1990s).

The number of women who leave tech companies is large (twice the rate of men).

So the percentage of Silicon Valley executive roles occupied by women is abysmal (11% in Silicon Valley).

The gap has costs. “If girls aren’t involved in building technological products,” Education Professor Linda Sax told the UCLA newsroom last year, “not only are they missing out on some of the fastest-growing and highest-paying jobs, we’re also missing out on the brainpower that these women can bring to the table.”

Yet the sad fact is, women are just not coming in – or staying inside – the door.

Maybe we need to open some new doors.

Courting Women in Tech

Terms like upskilling and reskilling are gaining traction in many industries. But they might have particular value for women in tech. Women finding the field after other jobs arrive with attitudes, experiences, and expectations for behavior that can help bust the "brogrammer" culture. Plus these women bring something else – namely insights from their first fields that will serve employers well. People who know their business create problem-solving tools that people in their business want to use.

And such women are out there. Explore sites like the nonprofit Women Who Code and you’ll find stories of women coming upon passions for coding while working in advertising, research, sales marketing, and customer service. Some segued into new jobs in their existing companies. Others purposefully upended work lives for new careers at new companies. Many did not have IT backgrounds or degrees at all.

“I love the challenge of constant change and teaching myself new technical topics,” one woman told Medium about a tech career that started in marketing. “This constant quest for knowledge keeps me driven and engaged.”

“I was a research assistant, putting my husband through his PhD program, and in order to do my job I had to learn to use technology to analyze the data we had collected,” said another. “It was certainly challenging, because I am not a math and science person by nature, but once I unlocked the door to all that was possible with those 1s and 0s, I was hooked for life.”

All of these women benefitted from more than just undiscovered passion, but from employers who were open to non-traditional hires, and who gave them the opportunity – and just as critically, the training – to get there. And you can bet their employers got great students since second careers tend to be pursuits of passion.

It’s an unconventional pipeline that has promise. But purposeful effort will have to include:

  • Employers who are open-minded enough to recognize and recruit these employees.
  • Partnerships with schools to train them.
  • Benefits and cultures (for men and women) showing that careers (even tech careers) can continue after children.

While we’re at it, we could use some more female tech recruiters.

This by no means takes anything from the female students currently studying tech on college campuses. The truth is we need more of them. But the way to get more is to make sure they have role models. As has been said before, you can’t be what you can’t see; so the more female tech hires we have, the more we’ll get.

Those role models may already be in front of you. They just might not be in the obvious places you’re looking.

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.