Women in tech, and why it matters to the ad industry

Ben
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UPDATED: A Twitter user mentioned to us that a Girl Develop It meetup was actually held in Buffalo on the night this blog was published, and suggested that we include GDI info in this post. Good call, @aadrian. The next Girl Develop It event is Intro to Web Concepts and is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 20 at D!G Buffalo. You can RSVP online now.

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One of our clients — Trocaire College — is making a strong effort to attract more women to its technology programs. Over the past month, we’ve been deeply involved in creating digital content and elements for an online campaign slated to roll out later this summer.

Working on this project has given my content / inbound marketing team (consisting of Kristin Sullivan, our inbound marketing strategist. and Grace Gerass, our digital content intern) an opportunity to take a closer look at some of the tech / gender issues that have been making headlines in recent months.

Some interesting stats:

  • Women currently hold more than 51% of all professional occupations in the U.S., and approximately 26% of the 3,816,000 computing-related occupations.
  • Women comprise 34% of web developers; 23% of programmers; 37% of database administrators; 20% of software developers; and 15% of information security analysts.
  • According to Payscale.com, 90% of software developers are men.

Less women = problems for the economy, education system

Girls Who Code, an organization dedicated to educating girls about opportunities in programming-related fields, reports that “The U.S. Department of Labor projects that by 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer specialist job openings. Yet U.S. universities are expected produce only enough qualified graduates to fill 29 percent of these jobs.”

Additionally, the Public Broadcasting System’s Newshour claimed in February that “tech’s diversity problem may start… as early as high school,” noting that “statistics from the 2013 Advanced Placement, or AP, exam in computer science show that three U.S. states had no female students participate in the high school test, according to data released by the College Board last month. And in states where women did take the exam, female participation ranged from as low as about 4 percent in Utah to only as high as 29 percent in Tennessee.”

So why are women underrepresented in tech professions?

A Psychological Science study hypothesizes that a multitude of career choices, coupled with a lack of female-in-tech role models, could turn young women away from the field.

A 2011 investigation from the Level Playing Field Institute claimed that “IT workplaces, including tech startups, can create hostile or unpleasant environments for women and people of color, leading to those employees seeking out other companies or even other industries for work.”

These are unsettling conclusions, of course. The former speaks to a self-perpetuating cycle of ambivalence, and the latter identifies an even darker side — that women are uncomfortable, or even unsafe, in tech environments. As programmer and diversity advocate Ashe Dryden told MPRNews:

“Many companies are 80 or 90 or more percent men. They don’t necessarily understand that some of the language they’re using or some of the things they are doing might be turning people off and account for a lot of the attrition we see in the industry. Right now we have a problem, where 56 percent of the women in tech leave within 10 years. That’s twice the rate of men.

It’s a really damning statistic. A lot of men don’t necessarily understand the causes of that and have a hard time empathizing because they don’t have many people to relate to that aren’t like them…Get to know people that aren’t like you. Empathy is the key to changing this issue.”

Why women in tech matters to the ad industry

Two reasons, really:

  1. Agency work increasingly depends on the ability of programmers to bring our ideas to life in digital and mobile environments. If agencies struggle to find candidates because a huge segment of our population simply does not participate in the field, the entire industry is going to pay for the dearth of talent. Literally pay, that is.
  2. Advertising doesn’t always have a great track record in terms of gender equity. Only three percent of creative directors are women, and women tend to make less and leave the industry earlier than men.

There are some bright spots. From Newsweek:

Google has committed $50 million to Made with Code over the next three years. The massive project includes collaborations with nonprofits and opportunities for girls to learn from a legion of professional women who utilize coding in film, music and fashion. The tagline: “The things you love are made with code.”

Organizations like Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, Women In Technology and Iridescent, among several others, are helping to promote the cause. High-profile publications like Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” push the issue of gender equality in the tech industry into the public conversation. Studies and exposes, like Whitney Wolfe’s Tinder lawsuit, force underlying issues, like sexism and “bro”-ism, to be addressed.

What can we do on a personal level?

  • Hiring? Actively recruit and interview female candidates for tech positions in your company. Pay fairly and equitably.
  • Make sure that the workplace is safe for all employees, regardless of gender, race, sexuality, etc. If this requires an investment in employee education, a sharpening of HR policies and / or some discomfort and real consequences for anyone whose “jokes,” “compliments” or “misunderstandings” create hostile situations for coworkers, then so be it.
  • Check your own behavior and make sure that you are not contributing to any hostile situations, either tacitly or implicitly.
  • Are you a regular public speaker or your company’s rep for student expos, portfolio reviews or classroom visits? Spend some time talking about the need for women in tech positions in the ad industry.
  • Encourage your sisters, daughters, nieces and neighbors in their STEM-related interests.
  • Support organizations that promote women in technology.
  • Buy a girl in your life a Raspberry Pi.

More women in technology means more talent in the ad world. Here’s to a bigger, better and more profitable — and equitable — future for all of us.

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