Everyone shifts the blame: 'More girls would take stem subjects if only parents would stop buying them dolls.'
It's traditional in November to write about the gender pay gap - I've spent the past three years doing just that. But this year, when I set out to discover whether women in tech are earning considerably less than their male peers, I was struck by something else.
New research from US survey salary company Paysa shows that the first hurdle the tech world needs to overcome isn't paying women fairly, it's getting them into the company in the first place.
Paysa reviewed the pay of 1,143 job roles at 63 companies, a number that should have given it enough data to review the gender pay gap. However, of those 1,143 roles, only 50 had close to an equal number of men and women doing them and, unsurprisingly, these jobs were in areas such as HR or administration.
When all job roles were taken into consideration, women made up just 26% of the tech industry. So before companies can begin to analyze whether or not they are paid fairly, they have to ask themselves why they are finding it so hard to get women through the door in the first place.
The standard response is that it's not the hiring companies' fault. They pass the blame on to universities: if more women took computer science degrees there would be more women in tech. Universities pass the blame on to schools: not enough girls take Stem (science, technology, engineering and math's) subjects.
And schools pass the blame on to parents and society: more girls would take Stem subjects if only their parents would stop buying them dolls for Christmas and advertising agencies didn't assume all scientists were male. The truth is we're all to blame for the lack of girls leaving school with a desire to work in the technology industry, but the industry could certainly do more to help.
As Meta Brown puts it in a column for Forbes, the tech industry has got worse at bringing women into the fold. In the 1960s, nobody left university able to code. Those courses didn't exist, so tech companies would hire smart people and train them.
They invested in their staff from the get-go. Since there was no need to have a particular background to get into the industry, it attracted a wider range of people, not just in terms of gender but also backgrounds, interests and experiences. Today, it's the same people from the same universities who have done the same degrees.
This bland recruitment strategy isn't just bad for gender diversity, it's bad for innovation. When you have a group of people whose life experiences all echo each other's, you run the risk of them designing products exclusively for themselves and others like them.
Perhaps if Apple had a slightly more diverse workforce it would have realized that a period tracker would have made a good part of the health app, or that testing the iWatch on different skin colors before it launched might have been a good idea.
Claiming that there aren't enough women in tech because there aren't enough of them taking computer science degrees are just laziness on the behalf of companies. We know that the number of women taking these degrees is falling as they are turned off by the idea of becoming developers.
And it's not got anything to do with the job itself. It's a problem that stems from a lack of role models, a culture that's more boys' club than gender equality and a lack of interest in innovative hiring from the top of the organization. If you want more women to have "developer" at the top of their career choices as they finish their A-levels, then everyone in the tech industry needs to make it a more female-friendly career.
Nearly every week I'm sent a press release about a new scheme that has been set up to get more women into tech. There are clubs that target young girls and bring role models into school. There are programs that retrain stay-at-home mothers, helping them get back into the workplace.
And there are numerous groups, networks and roundtables that try to support women already working in the industry. The key point of all these is that they are started and run by women. Occasionally, a few men will turn up to events or step forward to champion a program that a woman in their organization has thought up, but they are in the minority and their impact is minimal.
Getting more women into technology faces the same problem that getting equal pay through every industry does: men are scared that it will negatively impact them so they fail to support it. Instead, they behave as all scared humans do and protect their own, whether that's people of the same gender, or those who went to the same university or who like the same pizza.
What nobody talks about is that paying women more hasn't resulted in men being paid less. There is room for everybody, whether they look like you or not. We just have to open the doors.
The Author is editor of the Guardian's Women in Leadership section.
Leave Your Comments