How can we close the gender gap in the technology industry?

The technology industry is one of the fastest-growing and most prosperous sectors in the world economy today. In 2016, 2,500 technology jobs were added in Arizona alone, according to a data analysis report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, EMSI and others. Despite the explosive growth of the industry and the capital pumped into it, industry leaders have yet to conquer one major disparity: the gender gap.

While statistics on women and minority groups are improving, they remain unacceptable. Google, Facebook and Yahoo all report employee makeup dominated by white and Asian males. On average, these technology giants employ 33 percent fewer women than the U.S. workforce as a whole.

CompTIA’s 2017 Cyberstates report breaks down data and trends in the United States’ technology industry. Statistics include technology employment gender ratios, which reveal women hold only 34 percent of the country’s technology jobs. A 2016 study done by Psychology of Women Quarterly found women who work in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields demonstrated lower psychological well-being than their male counterparts do. This was attributed to the exclusion and isolation women experienced from men in the work environments.

Women also face an uphill battle to gain leadership roles in the total workforce. At the current rate, it will be 2085 when women reach parity in leadership roles in our country, according to a gender gap report entitled “The Women’s Leadership Gap” by the Center for American Progress. Despite earning 60 percent of both undergraduate and master’s degrees, women in 2014 made up just 20 percent of executives, senior officers and management in U.S. high-tech industries. As recently as 2016, 43 percent of the 150 highest-earning public companies in Silicon Valley had no female executive officers at all.

Leaders in technology and education need to change the context of their environment to not only become more accepting and empowering towards women but also to support the elimination of gender biases and the gender gap that disrupt the learning cycle. Empowerment programs aren’t enough if we do not make changes at the psychological level.

More also can be done during early education to encourage women to explore STEM education programs. This starts with teachers, parents and investment in educational programs that not only accept but also celebrate young women pursuing STEM, such as the newly launched Girls in Tech Phoenix Chapter. According to the Psychology of Women Quarterly study, women as of 2016 were less likely than men to pursue careers in STEM fields due to factors such as gender ratios in STEM classes, lack of support from teachers and mentors, and lack of inclusion and civility.

Despite concerns, there is great hope for Arizona. Our state boasts three cities in the top 50 of smartasset.com’s 2017 analysis of the best cities for women in technology. Tucson, Chandler and Phoenix rank 23rd, 31st and 50th, respectively, in this study that analyzes gender pay gap, income after housing costs, technology jobs filled by women and four-year technology employment growth. That’s not to say female technology founders haven’t had more than their fair share of obstacles in Arizona. It is still more difficult for female entrepreneurs to access capital and funding, and female leaders are not provided the immediate respect that some of their male counterparts are afforded. Women in Arizona still fight to earn the respect of their peers, employees, partners and buyers.

While Arizona still needs to make improvements to see more female leaders in technology-related fields, we are closing the gender gap faster than many other well-established technology hubs in the country. The solution for expansive change isn’t obvious but leaders in technology are beginning to have serious conversations about gender and racial equality, especially here in Arizona. It is up to these leaders to empower women by funding equal education opportunities and providing avenues for women to pursue career paths in technology, as well as other STEM fields. To move forward, we must continue to foster a willingness to develop new solutions.

The Arizona Technology Council has been a leader in advocating for diversity in technology and working to propel, educate and empower women in technology, as well as young girls interested in STEM careers, through programs like Women in the Workforce. This committee and its events are organized by and feature some of the strongest female technology leaders in Arizona. The events were created specifically to empower women by giving them a voice, and are held in both Phoenix and Tucson. To find out more about the Women in the Workforce Committee and its events, we encourage you to visit the Council’s website ataztechcouncil.org.

 

Steven G. Zylstra is president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council.

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