DECEMBER 12, 2016

Tech’s Gender Embarrassment


The tech industry is traditionally associated with being forward thinking, and generally leans towards the left of the political spectrum. However, this is somewhat undercut by a problem that has plagued the industry since its very inception, and which doesn’t seem to be getting any better - and might in fact be getting worse – the gender gap.

Pay inequality is a problem in the tech industry, as it is a problem in the economy as a whole. It is not necessarily any worse in tech than in other sectors of the economy, but that is not to downplay the problem. A study published by Glassdoor last November found that the average female programmer made nearly 30% less than a man in the same job. A recent study by Comparably has added to this body of research, arguing that although the pay gap improves as women get older and progress in their careers, women under 25 earn on average 29% less than their male peers.


Of course, this is bad enough, but perhaps even more concerning for the industry is the participation gap. The percentage of women in Britain’s digital industries has actually fallen in the last 15 years, and now only 13% of the UK STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) workforce is female, according to the Women’s Engineering Society (WES). This is partly an issue with the number of female graduates in these areas, which has remained static since 2012. However, this does not explain the decrease – for an answer to this we must look to discriminatory hiring practises, whether these are conscious or subconscious. In 2010, 100, 000 female STEM graduates were unemployed or economically inactive, implying that even in this booming, healthy industry there is a lack of jobs for women.

And this isn’t just an issue of fairness and equality, but one of efficiency and competitiveness. According to a study by McKinsey & Company, companies are 15% more likely to perform better if they are gender diverse. Marie Hicks, assistant history professor at Illinois Institute of Technology, has argued in her book, ‘Programmed Inequality’, that the decline of British dominance in computing after the second world war was due to the ‘discriminatory hiring practices’ enacted against women once the male workforce returned from war.

Thus, both for the tech industry’s reputation as the vanguard of the future and simply for its health as an innovative, productive industry, it must confront this problem which threatens to overshadow it.