Why Are Women Abandoning Tech Career Fields?

Ana Redmond pursued a technology career for excitement and to make a difference in the world. She was successful in math and science, extremely quick at coding, and did coding more correctly than most people. In 2011, Redmond left her career after 15 years.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Garann Means decided to become a programmer for similar reasons as Redmond. She decided to leave after 13 years. She stated her reason for leaving as a hostile work environment towards women.

Computing jobs will double by 2020. According to Code.org, the number of available jobs is expected to be 1.4 million by that year. Facebook, Google, and Apple released data which revealed the male to female ratios are four to one or higher in their areas. In a field already in need of qualified workers, if women continue to leave their jobs, the worker shortage will only get worse.

Heretofore, the technology industry primarily hired Caucasians and Asians. Now the industry is looking to hire more women and minorities. However, women in the field are saying it won’t help to hire, if women keep leaving the field.

A study by the Harvard Business Review in 2008 showed that 50 percent of women in a science, engineering, or technology field will leave their jobs. The reason is the same reason given by Redmond and Means: a hostile work environment. Such a work environment can include:

  • Hostile male culture
  • Sense of isolation
  • Not having a clear career path

Redmond said of her male co-workers “It was like they were trying to push me out at every stage?They just kept asking me to prove myself over and over again.”

She built a prototype for a travel website, which would feature auto-suggest cities and airports if a person used a search field. The prototype fixed a long time problem. Her supervisors, who were male, said she had built it without their permission. She was also told that only architects for the company could create things or suggest them. Of course, all the architects were male. Eventually, the project was given to another employee and she was assigned different tasks.

Tracy Chou, an established engineer with Pinterest, was passed over for a position at a previous start-up. When she asked for an explanation from her supervisor, he told her,

“‘It’s just this feeling I have that this person will be able to get stuff done faster than you?’ The continuous pattern of all these people treating me like I didn’t know what was going on, or excluding me from conversations and not trusting my assertions, all these things added up and it felt like there was an undercurrent of sexism.”

These problems are not limited to employees of technology companies. Female tech entrepreneurs often have similar experiences. Wayne Sutton of Buildup, a start-up which searches for companies founded by women and minorities, says women are often treated badly. Recently, he watched a woman introduce herself to a venture capitalist and watched as she was told to find a job instead of having her own business, “because you’re not going to make it here.”

Sutton goes on to say, “Situations like that can really hurt the confidence of any entrepreneur. Some people will argue if you’re going to be an A+ entrepreneur, you’re not going to let it bother you, but it’s really unnecessary behavior.”

What is the percentage of women working for the major technology companies? Google has a 17 percent female staff in the engineering department. Google has a training program which aims to fight cultural biases. The technical team of Pinterest is 21 percent female. Pinterest has an engineering promotion committee to make sure no one is overlooked.

An employee’s gender and race should not be a hindrance for advancement. Facebook’s technical workforce is only 15 percent female. Facebook’s female employees gather for a leadership day. The day is filled with talks, workshops and support. The employees also have Facebook groups where they can share knowledge and their experiences with each other. Benefits employees receive are

  • Four months paid maternity and paternity leave
  • Free class for women on returning to the workplace

Joan C. Williams, law professor at UC Hastings College of the Law, says sensitivity training, mentoring, and negotiating tactics will not help increase women in the workforce. Companies need to make changes to the whole system and research the bias which blocks women from advancing.

Google’s data revealed women were promoted less often in the company. Women who did pursue promotions often experienced pushback. Women would be rewarded for being modest and penalized for what the men perceived as ?aggressive? behavior. To counter this, Google started to include female leaders at workshops. The workshops would coach everyone on how to successfully promote themselves. This helped considerably and the gender difference in nominees disappeared.

A female CEO in a company does not erase the problem either. Scarlett Sieber, Vice President of Operations at Infomous, states

“Men need to be the ones that are advocating and pushing for women to rise up, and not just rely on the 1% of women who are already at the top to do it.”

To fix the issues, she believes the company needs to cause disruption. Until then, women such as Redmond and Means will continue to leave. Redmond is now running her own business, designing educational apps for children. Means is working on a novel, while living in Rome.

As a student pursuing a career in a tech field, this article gave me pause. Most of my fellow students are males. Already, the male to female ratio is evident. I love technology and see it as my future. However, it is enlightening to have some insight as to what type of work environment I may be facing. I can only hope that companies improve their attitudes towards women. After all, women bring an array of rich perspectives, creativity, and unique points of view to the table; they are a valuable resource, by any man’s measure.


Sarah Hatter is a proud liberal writer for Liberal America. She is married with three kids. Women's issues have always mattered a great deal to her. Raising children herself, these issues have become even more important. She greatly cares about women around the globe, and the issues they are facing.You can follow her writings on facebook on the My Liberal Corner page.