Women working in technology remain a modern-day minority, statistics find. We delve into the sector trends for female tech employees.
During the Second World War, hundreds of women were hired to solve calculations that helped the Allies win the war. Throughout the 1950s, computer software programming was seen as ‘women’s work’, the alternative to the male vocation of hardware development.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, the number of US women pursuing degrees in computer science grew to 37% – nearly twice the number recorded in 2015. However, revolutionary software developments brought a gold rush to Silicon Valley and the focus for men shifted from hardware to software. The media also gave rise to the idea of the ‘male tech genius’ with its focus on Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and the number of women working in technology began to drop.
As of 2017, females hold just 24% of computer science jobs and occupy roughly 11% of executive positions in America’s tech hub Silicon Valley. The 2018 Women in Tech Index, which analyses 41 countries in the EU and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), highlights gender disparity found in the technology sector. Let’s take a look at the findings.
The Percentage of Women in Tech Jobs:
Below is a selection of countries featured in the research. Notably, Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria, Latvia, and Romania have a high percentage of women in STEM vocations. This trend stands out in comparison to Japan, a country globally renowned for its contribution to tech, where women who code make up just 13% of the workforce, less than half the number of Bulgaria’s female tech workers.
Eastern European Countries:
One explanation for the high proportion of Eastern European women in technology is the legacy that communism has left behind. Under state communism, it was compulsory for women to have a job in addition to caring for their children. Young women were more inclined to choose a role that guaranteed financial security for their families, investing their time in STEM areas rather than humanities. This tradition was also partly due to the fact that humanities, where freedom of expression could be displayed, were a risky choice under a communist regime; mathematics and science were much safer interests. Consequently, many women in post-socialist countries combined full-time STEM jobs with domestic tasks and their daughters are now following in their footsteps.
Today, the outlook is extremely positive. Bulgarian and Romanian developers make two or three times their country’s average income, working in outsourcing or R&D for Western European or US businesses. In Romania, this is due to the country’s low wages and cheap operating costs, which has encouraged international companies to open offices there. In all sectors, 26% of the highest positions in the country are occupied by women and for middle management roles the figure is 28%. Romania is now the second-fastest growing economy in Europe.
Latvia is particularly interesting as there is a significant gender imbalance, according to a 2010 report from the BBC. Approximately 50% more women were enrolled at the University of Latvia than men that year, this was partially due to Latvia’s high early male mortality rate resulting in there being 8% more women than men in the country. Further data from 2012 revealed that the capital of Latvia, Riga, had almost 127 women for every 100 men. More recently, women in Latvia have been said to live 9.6 years longer on average than men. Comparatively, according to the same 2015 data, women in the United Kingdom live just 3.6 years longer than men.
There’s simply not as many men in Latvia and the percentage of women in tech reflects the country’s high percentage of women in the workforce which stands at 50.25%, beating the United Kingdom’s 46.69%.
This Asian tech empire has a notable lack of women in the sector. With a large pay gap of 31.96%, which you can compare below to countries in Europe, Japan has a history of leaving women behind.
Japan’s first female governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, has described the glass ceiling in the country as being more of a “steel ceiling”. For many married women in Japan, the goal is to earn less than 1.5 million (¥) a year. Primary earners can claim a 380,000 (¥) tax deduction as a result – approximately equivalent to £2,566. The amount decreases in stages as the secondary earner’s income rises over the 1.5 million (¥) figure. The couple is no longer able to qualify when the lowest earner makes over 2.01 million (¥) – the equivalent to £13,574 per year.
It is the women who often earn the secondary income, preferring to work part-time and spend their money on supplies for their children. Work recruitment magazines often feature the phrase “Housewives are very welcome”. To add to this, about 70% of Japanese companies provide dependent allowances as financial incentives for wives to manage their households and not work. Japan’s work culture also puts an emphasis on long hours as a cost-saving tactic. Working overtime is an obligation, a custom that proves their physical and mental endurance to their employer. As a result, mothers with young children whose husbands work extremely long hours are often pressured into becoming the full-time caretaker. Women working in this environment are usually unable to have a family in addition to a full-time job, and others cite ‘mata hara’ – harassment for getting pregnant or taking maternity leave – as a reason for them quitting.
This explains why the statistics of women in STEM show a large pay gap for women in Japan. There are fewer female tech workers and, as a result, fewer chances for them to progress in their careers and achieve a higher salary. In all sectors, 43.34% of Japan’s workforce are female, falling below the 45.58% average for the countries surveyed by Honeypot.
Despite these findings, things are looking up for female workers in Japan. “Women are feeding an economic need because Japan is running out of bodies,” Kathy Matsui, chief Japan strategist for Goldman Sachs, told the Financial Times. Japan has the oldest population in the world, and its government is desperately seeking to increase the size of its labour force after having the second-weakest performance of all major economies last year.
Initiatives such as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's "Womenomics" agenda, launched in 2013, increased the rate of pay for those on parental leave and expanded the capacity for day-care facilities. Additionally, companies with more than 300 employees are required to disclose gender diversity targets and action plans for achieving them. The percentage of Japanese women choosing to work rose from 65% in 2013 to 68.1% in 2016, partly as a result of this initiative, according to CNBC.
Looking at these statistics for women in STEM by country reveals that while in many nations equality is on the horizon, there are still lots of places that are a far cry from gender parity. Women in technology events are helping to improve this. Conferences such as European Women in Technology, Women of Silicon Valley, Women in Tech Africa and Women of Silicon Roundabout feature motivational female speakers from the sector who inspire other women in tech to climb the ladder and smash the glass (or steel) ceiling.