What’s keeping women away from the tech industry in general? Has the male-dominant environment intimidated talented women? Technology and Computer science was not always dominated by men. “In the beginning, the word ‘computers’ meant ‘women,’” commented Ruth Oldenziel, a professor at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands who studies history, gender and technology. During World War II, one of the most famous computers in history — the 30-ton Eniac — was programmed by six women for the United States Army.
Closer to home, Singapore Management University (SMU) about gets 8,000 freshmen every cohort, with over half of them women. The National University of Singapore gets about 28,000 freshmen yearly, with also over half of them women. But regretably Tech & Computing isn’t on the radar for them. The School of Information Systems (SMU) & the School of Computing (NUS) enrolls only 40% & 29% women respectively. Get the details of the numbers for SMU here, and for NUS here.
Here’s the problem:
Ariane Hegewisch, who is a study director for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, says “Girls don’t get as much opportunity to use computers.” Girls also experience fewer opportunities to explore mathematics and/or the sciences, sometimes due the lack of encouragement, or the assumption that the curricula are more appealing to boys than girls and (not to forget) the negative stereotype about the female technical ability.
Its time for an attitude adjustment
On one hand, the technology industry has a need for more hard science proficient women. On the other hand, being successful in the technology industry doesn’t always require a technical degree.
Oracle’s co-CEO, Safra Catz, earned a law degree before becoming an investment banker.
Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman has a degree in economics and an MBA.
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg also has a degree in economics and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
However, only few women, clad with MBAs, are likely to enter tech-intensive industries. And out of those who do, 53 percent switch industries, according to a study by Catalyst, a nonprofit organization focused on expanding opportunities for women. (A corresponding study compared 31 percent for men)
Another study revealed that women in business roles within tech companies will more likely to begin their careers at entry level compared with men. And on the topic of salary, women in Silicon Valley earn less than their male peers. In 2013, median salaries of males with an bachelor’s degree in Silicon Valley was 61 percent higher than females, according to a February report by Joint Venture Silicon Valley.
“It may be that some of these professions have become more and more geeky and nerd-like,” says Hegewisch. “Smart young women don’t necessarily want to hang out in that culture and feel pushed out.”
And that’s the problem in a nutshell. Tech firms, regardless of their status as industry heavyweights or fresh-faced startups, have got to review how they assess candidates, says Clarke, the Knightsbridge executive recruiter.
“This comes down to a war for talent, and the best possible talent may not look like you,” said Clarke.