Why is there a gender gap in engineering?

For some reason, there is a stereotype that engineering jobs are the preserve of men. It shouldn’t be true, it isn’t true, but it exists nonetheless. Unfortunately, this perception creates a vicious circle. Many women may think about becoming engineers, may have the capabilities to get into the industry, but they eventually decide it’s not for them and pursue something else. And it continues.

Another reason there are few women in the tech industry is that many of the women that start end up leaving, disillusioned with the exclusionary male-dominated culture that undoubtedly exists. This is often called ‘bro culture’. A study in 2016 found that in the US, women leave the tech industry at twice the rate of men.

Finally, on top of the stereotypes and the testosterone-fuelled atmosphere, there is something else that discourages women from working in development. There’s a significant gender pay gap in software engineering. On average, female software engineers earn 10% less than males.

Women at work

Why it matters?

Of course, there should never be an industry where women feel intimidated to join, priced out of the market or forced out by a toxic culture. However, there is a more practical reason why there needs to be more women in the industry – women are better coders!

A recently published study analysed 3 million pull requests on GitHub. The study found that for women coders, the approval rate was 78.6%. For men, it was 74.6%.

Over the years, there have been some excellent female coders that have built world-class products. Marissa Mayer was the first female engineer at Google, leading projects including Gmail and Google Maps. She went on to become CEO at Yahoo! Julia Liuson created Visual Studio as used by Windows developers and rated as the best application of its type.

In most industries, diversity leads to better outcomes, whether that’s diversity in gender, race, background or anything else. When you have people who think and act in different ways getting together to solve problems, you are more likely to discover that winning idea.

Unfortunately, we have a situation where women have to work twice as hard as men to earn the same recognition.

How to close the gender gap

There are many different initiatives in place to try and narrow the gender gap in engineering, but much more needs to be done.

Coding is now taught to children, boys and girls, at school. Even at primary school, children as young as seven are encouraged to learn the basics of coding on programs like Scratch. It is great to see boys and girls learning these essential skills on an equal footing, with no one telling them that this is ‘a man’s job’ or ‘not for girls’. Games such as Roblox are aimed as much at girls as they are as boys, with big communities developing around famous female players and their YouTube channels. For girls that develop a genuine interest in coding, there are classes and camps they can attend to take their skills further.

There are also several networks and communities dedicated to women in engineering. The Women’s Engineering Society, or WES, has actually been going for more than 100 years. It was founded to help women who had learned engineering skills during World War I find work when the men came back from the front. Today it supports women in all areas of tech and raises awareness around the gender gap. Women Who Code is a US-based network providing resources to women in, or who want to join, the software development sector. There are also many more informal communities, especially in big cities like London, designed to give women in the industry a place to share knowledge and support each other.

Companies must take the initiative

Getting girls starting coding at an early age is a terrific idea. The networks that support women in tech do a great job of encouraging women to stay in the industry and pursue their ambitions. However, it is not enough. What else can be done?

While very few companies actively want to create a male-dominated bro culture in their workplaces, many don’t do enough to stop it happening.

The first thing companies should do is employ more women. Many times, when presented with two applicants of a similar ability, but one is male and one is female, the hirer will go with the male as it is seen as a safer bet. Hirers must make an effort to employ the woman in that situation. It is a step on the journey to a more positive culture.

Next, they should make their company a more welcoming place for women to work. You cannot change a culture overnight, but you can take small steps, such as reducing competition between programmers and using less masculine terms in the workplace. These things are seen as a turn-off for female engineers.

Finally, they should pay women the same as men if they’re doing the same job. That should go without saying!

The tide is turning, but there is still more to do. If you’re a female looking to get ahead in tech, download Haystack today.

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