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News & Press: Outside Sources

Why are women leaving the tech industry in droves?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015   (1 Comments)
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Original article printed in the Los Angeles Times

By Tracey Lien

Ana Redmond launched into a technology career for an exciting challenge and a chance to change the world. She was well-equipped to succeed too: An ambitious math and science wiz, she could code faster, with fewer errors, than anyone she knew.

In 2011, after 15 years, she left before achieving a management position.

Garann Means became a programmer for similar reasons. After 13 years, she quit too, citing a hostile and unwelcoming environment for women.

Neither expects to ever go back.

"There are a lot of things that piled up over the years," Means said. "I didn't know how to move forward. There was a lot I had to put up with in the culture of tech.

It just didn't seem worth it."

That's a huge problem for the tech economy. According to the industry group, computing jobs will more than double by 2020, to 1.4 million. If women continue to leave the field, an already dire shortage of qualified tech workers will grow worse. Last summer, Google, Facebook, Apple and other big tech companies released figures showing that men outnumbered women 4 to 1 or more in their technical sectors.

It's why the industry is so eager to hire women and minorities. For decades tech companies have relied on a workforce of whites and Asians, most of them men.

Plenty of programs now encourage girls and minorities to embrace technology at a young age. But amid all the publicity for those efforts, one truth is little discussed: Qualified women are leaving the tech industry in droves.

Women in tech say filling the pipeline of talent won't do much good if women keep quitting — it's like trying to fill a leaking bucket.

"It's a really frustrating thing," said Laura Sherbin, director of research at the Center for Talent Innovation. "The pipeline may not improve much unless women can look ahead and see it's a valuable investment."

A Harvard Business Review study from 2008 found that as many as 50% of women working in science, engineering and technology will, over time, leave because of hostile work environments.

The reasons are varied. According to the Harvard study, they include a "hostile" male culture, a sense of isolation and lack of a clear career path. An updated study in 2014 found the reasons hadn't significantly changed.

Most women in the Harvard study said the attitudes holding them back are subtle, and hence more difficult to challenge.

Redmond, now 40, didn't want to leave her tech career. But she felt stuck, with no way to advance. She said male co-workers seemed to oppose her. "It was like they were trying to push me out at every stage," she said.

She had built a prototype for a travel website, she said, a feature to auto-suggest cities and airports based on the first three letters typed into the search field, fixing a long-standing problem.

Her male bosses told her she'd built it without permission. Then they said only architects within the company could pitch features — and all the architects were male. In the end, the project was handed to someone else, and she was assigned to less interesting tasks.

"They just kept asking me to prove myself over and over again," she said.

As an isolated incident, Redmond wouldn't have thought much of it. But she noticed a pattern. She said she was often passed up for no apparent reason, and her projects were frequently taken away or dismissed.

Tracy Chou, 27, a well-known engineer at Pinterest, said she was once bypassed at a previous start-up because her boss thought a new male hire was more qualified. When Chou pressed for an explanation, she recalled him saying: "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," she said.

That's one difficulty in tackling the problem, said Alaina Percival of Women Who Code, a group that aims to attract more women to the tech industry.

"They're [things that are] so small you'd never even complain about them," Percival said. "But they happen day after day. They're the kind of things that separate and exclude you from the team and make you say, 'Hey, is this the right career path for me?'"

It's not just employees. Female tech entrepreneurs face similar frictions.


Robina Shaheen PhD says...
Posted Sunday, March 01, 2015
Thanks a lot for posting this article. It made me feel that I am not the " lone sufferer". Though sad stories of intelligent women but together we can make a difference for the future generations. This bias is everywhere even most enlightened professors in academia have their biases and it becomes obvious like a day break when resources are limited, the priority will be given to the projects run by male colleagues despite the obvious merit and exceptional quality of the work conducted by female peers.

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