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Stats, data, and answers, as to why there are so few women in technology fields.

Tags: Women in Technology

Women today represent an abysmal percentage of the population of most STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), and that number is shrinking, rather than expanding. At the same time, fewer young women are entering the STEM workforce than in previous years.

Why are women leaving STEM fields?

Researchers have been gathering volumes of data as to the why there are fewer women are staying in, or entering STEM fields, and from that data we can see many issues that cover a spectrum from that need to be addressed:

  • Sexism: overt and subtle (hostile macho cultures)
  • Harassment, threats, or potential or actual violence toward women
  • Childcare
  • Financial Independence
  • Gender Stereotyping
  • Work-life balance

Considering the number of challenges, addressing the lack of women in technology is a multifaceted phenomenon with no single solution, with each matter deserving attention. The primary goals of this post will focus on demonstrating...

  1. Incidents of sexism at industry events, and online conversations, and their link to the decline of women in STEM fields.
  2. The effects sexism has on women and the STEM industries as a whole, both now and in the future.
  3. A call to action to drive awareness and take a proactive stance in promoting women friendly STEM workplaces, conferences, schools, and meeting places.

By understanding these influences women in technology, particularly in software development, we can take corrective and proactive stances, in the retention, engagement, and attraction of top female talent.

Incidents of sexism are major contributors to a declining female STEM workforce.

The National Center for Women In Technology describes sexist incidents [.pdf] in various ways including,

"experienced/observed exclusionary cliques, unwanted sexual teasing, being bullied, and homophobic jokes".

Consider that  between January and October 2011, women reported 20 sexist incidents to the Geek Feminism Wiki, with some common themes: 

  • Several talks at tech conferences contained pornographic style imagery, or sexual imagery.
  • Multiple presentations referenced women in a derogatory or demeaning way, (e.g., "women can't program", "women are stupid") or by overt or subtle objectification of women.
  • Overt harassment, inappropriate touching, and groping are still commonplace at technical conferences.

Roughly one incident every two weeks this year means that this happens more than we'd like to think - and that's only the reports from a single website.

Exclusionary, offensive, incidents at conferences, along with threats, violence, and harassment, against women in technology (and women in general) are simply not isolated occasions. They have profound implications that directly impact the declining numbers of women in technology. The Washington Post outlines some statistics demonstrating this, in a study on interactions between men and women during online chat sessions.

"A 2006 University of Maryland study on chat rooms found that female participants received 25 times as many sexually explicit and malicious messages as males. A 2005 study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that the proportion of Internet users who took part in chats and discussion groups plunged from 28 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2005, entirely because of the exodus of women." [emphasis mine]

Those numbers have barely improved, five years later. Additionally, the participants in this study belong to a general online audience and not solely the STEM fields, so one must consider the fact that STEM fields are male dominated, resulting in a larger amount of sexist behavior.

Though not the only reason, the numbers show that in software development specifically, sexist and overtly offensive behavior (both online and off) is one of two key factors as to why women are leaving technical fields as reported by ABC News. This article quotes Laura Sherbin, director at the Center for Work-Life Policy, who published a study in the Harvard Business Review titled "Reversing the Brain Drain in Science, Engineering, and Technology". Laura goes on to explain the primary reasons women leave STEM fields...

"The top two reasons why women leave are the hostile macho cultures — the hard hat culture of engineering, the geek culture of technology or the lab culture of science … and extreme work pressures"

Sherbin also highlights just how critical and surprising the numbers are, even to researchers.

"The dropping out was a surprise to us. We knew anecdotally that women were leaving these careers. We didn't expect to see the number 52 percent."

To reiterate: 52% or just over half, of the female STEM workforce leaves because of hostile macho cultures.

Let's do the math:

  • Assume the average tech conference has 300 attendees.
  • The average turnout of females at a technical conference is at about 15%, or 45 women in this example.
  • 52%, or 23 of the women at that event will leave the industry[1].
  • At a rate approximately of 26 events per year affecting 23 women each time, 598 women will be subjected to a hostile environment each year[1].

The cost in human terms and individual well-being is immeasurable.

A look at the negative effects and human cost of sexist behavior in STEM fields.

Considering the above numbers, try out this thought exercise, showing the implications of sexist incidents on women in software.

  1. Think of the names 23 women developers that you work alongside, have worked with, or know. Try it without looking at social networks, checking address books, etc...
  2. Think about these women. Are they your coworkers? Presenters you admire? Are they women with whom you enjoy having technical conversations, perhaps at conferences, code camps, or over social networks?
  3. There's essentially a 50/50 chance, or the same chance as the toss of a coin, that those 23 women won't be developers for much longer.

Once they're gone, can you name 23 more women to replace them? It won't be the younger girls entering the field.

The consequences have a stifling effect on younger girls wanting to enter the technology fields before they have a chance to start. Numbers show that a huge impasse in attracting young girls into the STEM fields, is a serious lack of women role models in those fields. Less women staying in the field means fewer role models for young girls, which in turn means fewer STEM girls overall.

It's not just about sexist incidents though, subtle sexism can bleed into the everyday atmosphere of in tech fields and cause the same amount of negative barriers. While the day to day activities of most technical women might not vary much from that of men, as far as actual programming, sitting in meetings, mundane business tasks, etc... What do differ are the interactions between the sexes, as well as both overt and subconscious behavior that manifests as sexist incidents, though primarily non-malicious, and most often subconscious. For example, here are some commonplace scenarios where subtle sexism happens in companies large and small[2][3]:

  • Men who repeatedly ask only the women attending meeting to take notes, or get coffee, when the woman is not a secretary or in a similar role.
  • Colleagues that routinely ignore women during meetings, or a female states an idea that is promptly ignored, then raised again by a man who gets the credit. (in a consistent, frequent, pattern)
  • Women, rather than men, are routinely stuck into "softer" positions, often to answer phones. Management gives women more remedial tasks that are clearly not aligned with their job description or what they were hired to do.

The sentiments above are detailed in a report by Level Playing Field Institute titled "The Tilted Playing Field: Hidden bias in information technology workspaces"  [.pdf]. Reading about recent events and stories of everything from demeaning comments, to outright harassment, stalking, and groping, are still commonplace in the tech industry. I must agree that I've personally been privy to a number of these types of scenarios, but that's not all...

When an incident at a conference happens, I inevitably get a call or email from a female colleague who has just given up, and is now looking at non-technical career alternatives.

If we are to keep our technical industries healthy, and full of diverse creativity, things must change, and soon. So what can you do?

A Call to Action: Drive awareness and take the lead to promote diversity in STEM fields.

Below are just some of the things you can do to drive diversity and promote women in STEM fields:

Drive awareness.

It may seem obvious, but without awareness, it's impossible to know there's a problem.

You can drive awareness by blogging, tweeting, or otherwise telling your story, or commenting on blogs to show your support. The Level Playing field's report shows a real lack of awareness in populations at large. The more blog posts, articles, and events, mean more information people can use to take proactive stances to create technical communities and workspaces that are welcoming to everyone.

Be proactive.

  • Does your company have a diversity and inclusion policy? Even if you work for a small business or startup, a formal policy of inclusion fosters a welcoming environment for everyone. If you company doesn't have one, get involved and ask your HR department to work on one with you. Don't let your policy be a paper form of lip service, make it part of how you do business.
  • Does your HR department have a clear open door policy, with a trusted employee to listen to concerns?
  • Attend women in technology events. Hint: Take your favorite gal developer with you. At the Code Camp NYC 2011 WIT luncheon, a healthy mix of men and women joined in for a productive, round-table discussion.
  • Ask technical women work on a joint talk with you for a user group or code camp, and invite them to technical events.

Awesome guys like John Zablocki and coworkers like Joe Healy, Peter Laudati, and Brian Prince, are just a few of the many guys I see at WIT related events.

Presenters & conference organizers:

Speakers can use the Windows Phone 7 app content guidelines, or the Android app marketplace rating guide when s/he's not sure what material should be considered offensive.

Organizers can create written guidelines to ensure a harassment-free environment for everyone at your conference, user group, or other meeting.

CodeStock 2010 set a perfect example to follow by embracing a WIT centered theme, including a female keynote speaker (*ahem* that would be me :) ).


I would love to see every company behave as MS DPE East does, and I hope that you, dear readers of this blog, will step up to foster an environment in your workplaces and homes that support and celebrate women and diversity in STEM fields.

Should an incident occur at an event you're attending, take corrective action as soon as possible. If you're in a conference session and you feel offended or uncomfortable, walk out calmly, and write down exactly what you feel is offensive or inappropriate. Take the evaluation to the conference staff, and ask that they check out the session in question.

[1] The numbers in this sample represent one source of reports, so the actual numbers are much higher. Additionally, the number 23 is rounded from 23.4. Also assuming a single track conference, which is fairly common.

[2] These aren't just manufactured scenarios - they're real life stories from female contemporaries.

[3] As for large companies, my experiences at Microsoft DPE have been great!. I work on an highly functioning team with awesome people who celebrate diversity in technology and are quite supportive of each other.


  • Andrew said


    No disrespect intended, but you do realize that 99.something% of IT people will never attend an IT conference, right? Ditto for things like code camps.

    I know there was some incident this week where some idiot had some pictures in a presentation, but that's hardly why women aren't going into technology, because that only effect women who are already in the profession. Maybe that will push the out, but that number would be so small compared to the overall number of IT professionals that it wouldn't show up in statistics.

    Also, since you are Microsoft, you must know that the lion share of female developers in the .NET community are in "enterprise" shops, which generally means large companies with even larger HR departments with plenty of policies and rules about harassment for all employees based on gender (and sexual orientation, age, religion, etc., etc.) so I doubt that fear of reprisals or fear that harassment can't be reported is a real issue either (or there wouldn't been women in other roles there either)

    I work with plenty of women coders, the main thing is that most of them were raised and educated outside of North America. I think that's that's the main issue that should discussed. To be blunt: How do we get girls into development at an earlier age, so they become the women programmers of the future? Not how to deal with a few male chauvinists at tech conferences (which is easy, don't invite them back and tell them to grow up).

  • Jim said

    Thanks for this Rachel. I've got two young girls aspiring to geekdom, and finding adequate role models has been difficult. Actually, I pulled them through MADExpo earlier this year - you may have seen them.

    What's happening isn't unique to IT certainly, but the effect in our field seems to be aggravated by something, not sure what. Funny thing is - college graduation rates show a higher percentage of women graduating and obtaining higher degrees than men. And in other technical fields the ratio of women to men is holding or even increasing.

    One of the things I think we can do as a community is to stop offering comissive support for the sexist behavior you describe. That is, stop being idle witnesses to overt sexist activity. It's not easy to explain to someone that their behavior is inappropriate and unappreciated; however, not doing so guarantees nothing will change.

    Thanks for staying on this.

  • eva said

    I can assure Andrew and other people that harassment at conferences is not all of it. I was just interviewed for a position as Associate Professor in Digital Media and Fine Arts and was harassed by the two civil engineers on the schools board, they insinuated that I wasn't capable of doing the job and they has a lot of fun saying it, laughing out loud, so conferences is not the only place. And the point is I was the highest ranked by the applicants.
    One other point is, men hire men, not women to do the job, in every related tech field.

  • Rachel said


    If you read the entire post you'd see that dedicated an entire section of the post to the "workplace" - which is both enterprise shops and startups. If you read the LPFI report, http://www.lpfi.org/sites/default/files/tilted_playing_field_lpfi_9_29_11.pdf, you'd see those women and minorities are the also least happy because of negative workplace experiences, so I am speaking to the 99%.

    At the end of the post I concluded that becoming more involved in WIT related activities is something that will help. Nearly all WIT related meeting involve creating strategies to get younger girls into the STEM workforces, so yes, I did suggest that as well.

  • Andrew said


    I'm sorry you had a bad experience, and the fact that two people on a board in front of their peers would behave in such a manner is ridiculous, but that hardly proves that "men hire men".

    I have been responsible for a very large share of the software developer hiring for two major companies in the NYC/NJ area over the past few years, and I've hired more women then men (almost 2:1 in that time). Not because they were women, but because they were qualified for the job.

    I'm not looking for a pat on the back, or "you're one of the good ones" type of feedback, I did it simply because the better people I hire, the better my teams will perform, which in tern will make me look better. I can say with quite a high degree of confidence that most, if not all, other senior management people I know feel the same way. Is everyone blind when it comes to color, gender, sexual orientation, etc, etc, obviously not, but simply stating that "men hire men" is downright wrong.

  • Andrew said


    I just think you spent too much time on something that really doesn't effect most of the people in the IT workplace (conventions, conferences, etc). It doesn't mean I'm condoning their behavior, so I hope you didn't take it that way.

    My point was that while you might have suggested something at the end about getting younger girls into development, that to me is by far the biggest issue, so it should have been the focal point of the posting, not something added at the end.

    Having an influx of new women talent coming into the industry, and fire the few meatheads who still think it's 1975 and I think you have a very fixable problem.

  • Rachel Appel said


    Please go read the research carefully. It details the IT/software/STEM industries as a whole, which is the 52% I am speaking about. If you look it's only about a quarter of this post that talks about conferencs, and calls nobody out.

    The research (link are in the post, if you'll read it) also details the *cascading* effects of when women leave technology, simply put, fewer women mean fewer girls.

    Surely you're not ok with anyone at all being driven out of an industry because of this behavior, no matter where it lies, as that would discount/exclude a very, very, minority group (as you say).

    Women DO avoid conferences just because of this. It's one of the reasons they're such a small percentage of the attendees. So yes, spending time on this is important to me.

  • Jay said


    Having witnessed some of these acts at conferences, I encourage my male counterparts to call out the offenders. First, it helps with the visibility, and second, it helps prevent future outbursts from the offender when they realize that their male peers don't approve. Peer pressure works.


    Though you may be correct that most developers will never attend a conference or code camp, these developers--male or female--are the developers that most often serve as mentors and role models for the rest of the developer industry. Even though the women that fall victim at conferences may be a lower percentage than the industry as a whole, they are still a very high priority, as these women have a higher likelihood as acting as a voice for attracting (or in the scenarios that Rachel describes, deterring) future WIT.


    I caution you with your generalization of "men hire men...in every related tech field" especially since it is a stereotype generalization that you, yourself, fell victim to in your job search. Always be the change you wish to see in the world.

  • Rachel Appel said

    Thanks Jay! Thoughtfully said.

    And yes, Andrew, you should pat yourself on the back for having a diverse team of qualified individuals. As Jay said, it serves as a role model -leading by example.

    Again, I'm with Jay here, "the men hire men" is a very sweeping statement. For one, the manager who hired me is male. :)

  • Rachel Appel said


    Readers, I have a post in the work queue about getting younger girls into STEM fields as well. Coming as soon as I can get it.

    (Also Andrew, check back then, you will definitely see more stats and focus in that area.)

  • Janene P said

    I've been a software developer for nearly 25 years, in heavily male environments - Aerospace and Oil Exploration, for 2 examples. The only harassment I've experienced has been from non-engineer men. I've been to several conferences and never was bothered, including such events as JavaOne and S.E.G.

    I currently am 1 of 2 female software engineers in a firm with about 10 men. We'd hire more women, if they applied, but they don't. Our workplace is casual and not uptight about light bantering. We are adults.

    Perhaps because my father was military, I learned early on how to project a competent, Don't-F-with-me attitude. I'm certainly very attractive - could have been a model if I'd wanted.

    Do I wish I could not work anymore? Yep. But not because of the guys.

  • Andrew said


    I didn't get a chance to look at the research, so I was just going by the contents of the post, so I'll take a look.

    I'm definitely not okay with anyone being driven out of the industry due to prejudice or misbehavior by a very small vocal minority.

    I guess we're looking at it from different sides, you're saying that if we don't keep the women we have, we won't get the girls to be developers in the future. Okay, I'll buy that, I was going more of it like if we get lots of girls now, they're been too many entering the work force for that small minority to drive out. Although I'm guessing a combination of the two is probably the right solution.

    I also wasn't aware of women actively avoiding conferences (granted, I don't go to many), I just can't believe people would have the stones to ask female attendees to go get them a coffee. Amazing really that people think that way in 2011.

    And I appreciate the kind words, but I'm hiring for purely for selfish reasons. I'm upper management, and there's plenty of room for advancement in all the places I work, so I never feel threatened, especially by a very junior person (like the people I hire out of college). If someone is very good at their job and gets promoted, that shines a very good light on me as well. I call it being productively selfish. :)

    To be honest, most people I know in similar positions think the same way.

  • Kerry Baker said

    My Dad (a colleague of yours!) passed on the link to your blog as he thought it might interest me - I completed a PhD titled 'Why Women DO study engineering at university' (the study was of engineering undergraduates, UK based and compared them to their male counterparts) and now work with universities in England to design and carry out activities to encourage more people into STEM subjects – so I will be looking out for your next post on getting more girls into STEM.

    I would like to add though that sometimes STEMists are their own worst enemy – and an example of it is repeated above – geek and geekdom. While said in a jovial manner, terms like this are off putting to anyone who does not already have a solid knowledge of STEM subjects and jobs, and it enhances bad stereotypes of STEMists.(I myself have been guilty of this many times in the past and it’s pretty difficult to get out of the habit!!).

    (Sorry, it doesn't really fit with this thread, I'll wait for the next one!) Kerry

  • Rachel Appel said


    Yes, exactly!

    "if we don't keep the women we have, we won't get the girls to be developers in the future."

    I'll go deeper into it in the next post on WIT related stuff, as I have some data showing the importance and influence of role models (which could be male as well) and how the lack of role models hinders young gals getting into tech. I strongly suspect young girls would feel more welcome if other girls of their own age were on similar tech career paths as well.

    So really, a good mixture of approaches will work here as you said.

  • Rachel Appel said


    That's really interesting. I've gone to (even organized) Geeks in Pink, GirlGeekDinners and similarly named groups. I have Geek branded swag too.

    I've been approaching it from the "Geek is chic" side, but am now wondering if then the majority perception/stereotype of geek is still...well something like Wayne Knight in Jurassic park.

  • Rachel Appel said


    That's great to hear! I also enjoy a great work environment here in MS DPE, and have worked in many other great environments.

    Similarly, as a 22 year software veteran myself (mosty consulting & training), I don't want to leave the industry either, and obviously then, not because of the guys. I don't want to stop working at all, I love what I do.

    Not similarly, I have had a lot of rather unprofessional situations thrown at me:

    I've had men that refused to take a class from me, because I am female.

    I had a guy in an interview tell me women belong in the kitchen, not in programming.

    That's just 2 of many incidents I had to deal with myself, and not at conferences.

    It's those type of situations I am working to correct, not casual environments or jokes (the only mention of that in this post was a quote about homophobic jokes). So jokes aren't any focus of this post. I do partake in some pretty awful jokes myself, but in closed company, not in meetings, presentations, or where it could offend.

  • Eric Miller said


    I'm a software developer and father of a 15 year old female geek. She's definitely on a path toward a technology career of some kind - digital imaging, game development, computer programming, or perhaps architecture. She's currently taking advanced mathematics, physics, and programming courses in high school and I want to make sure she is exposed to positive role models.

    Any suggestions where we might find organizations and/or events she could get involved in while in high school?

  • Jon said

    While I wholeheartedly support the aim of getting more women into STEM fields, I believe there are some problems with this research, judging from the ABC News article at least (the link to the Harvard study seems to be broken?).

    The key quote from the article, that you yourself repeated, is:
    "The top two reasons why women leave are the hostile macho cultures — the hard hat culture of engineering, the geek culture of technology or the lab culture of science … and extreme work pressures,"

    As a professional software developer, I agree that the culture is often geeky, but 'geeky' is not synonymous with 'hostile' and 'macho'. Those words have very different meanings. Similarly, what exactly is a 'lab culture' in science? I encounter geekiness regularly in work, but I very rarely encounter the kind of aggressive and posturing behaviour that characterises truly hostile and macho environments. While I can only speak anecdotally, most of the male software developers are friendlier, better-educated and less-aggressive than the average guy.

    I obviously have no doubt that incidents of macho and misogynist behaviour do occur, and they should be dealt with seriously when they do, but I am not convinced that they are any more or less prevalent in the STEM fields that in any other area of employment.

    Also, the talk of 'extreme work pressures' confuses me. As the article itself later states, men are no happier working extreme hours under intense pressure than women. To suggest that such pressures are discriminatory against women is, in my opinion, highly sexist, implying that women are somehow more vulnerable to overwork and stress than men. Men may well be more willing to tolerate such conditions, due to societal expectations, but I don't believe they do so happily or through any greater forbearance.

    So yes, STEM fields are overly-pressured, but this is not evidence of discrimination against women, so much as discrimination against ALL workers, which men, for the societal reasons mentioned above, may be more willing to endure.

    It seems worryingly like the authors are working backwards from a conclusion: that women are leaving STEM fields because of a hostile and deliberately anti-female working environment. They have then cast a very wide net as to what constitutes a hostile environment and, by so doing, arriving at their ~50% figure.

    This is, I feel, disingenuous and unhelpful. It points a finger at the men working in these fields and accuses them of some kind of collective, deliberate misogyny. They in turn feel unjustifiably attacked, and become defensive, in turn only encouraging gender bi-partisan-ism.

    Now then, due to my misgivings about the intentions of the authors, I'm not certain how much I trust the figures given in the research. But let's say we put aside their interpretations and instead say that ~50% of women are leaving STEM fields due to 'off-putting' working environments. An 'off-putting' environment might be unpleasant or uncomfortable, and that might be down to male behaviour, but the behaviour may not be in any way malicious or discriminatory.

    For example, if a female software developer with no interest in science-fiction is working with a team of men with a passionate, geeky love of Star Trek, such that the majority of their casual conversations revolve around it, then that may well make it an off-putting environment. You could certainly sympathise if she wished to leave, but there is nothing actively hostile or discriminatory about the men's behaviour, it is simply a result of their legitimate interests. A male software developer with no interest in science fiction might find it just as off-putting.

    So STEM fields may well have cultures that some women find off-putting, but not because they are hostile or macho. This in turn opens up a lot of complicated questions: to what extent is those womens' discomfort with aspects of these cultures due to genuine gender differences, and what is due to societal expectations? Are the cultures the result of male-domination, or is male-domination the result of the cultures? Is there a feedback loop between the two that will resist attempts to challenge it? To what extent can these cultures be changed or improved while respecting the rights of those people already within them to pursue legitimate, if traditionally non-feminine, interests?

    I don't think there are any easy answers to these questions, but reductive attempts to portray it purely as a matter of sexist hostility do a disservice to all involved.

  • Shifra said

    Rachel, this is a great post. I've witnessed some very eye-roll-inducing behavior at conferences, but more to the point, I've had job after job where the macho culture was completely overt (at one job, just to name one particularly egregious example, a man looked me in the eye in front of a group of other men and said straight out, "We don't want to hire more women. We don't want our culture to change"). Not talking about Star Trek geekery here, I'm talking about truly hostile, macho environments.

    I have happily landed in an environment where there are an unusual number of strong, well-respected female developers, and it's such a pleasure, but I have had plenty of times when I wondered whether I wanted to continue battling it out every day.

  • Aaron Seet said

    I don't know, this seems to be a "problem" only in the west. There are lots of females in the IT industry in Asia. I think it has a lot to do with how young girls are brought up and nurtured to believe what kind of profession they are suited for when they come of age to make a contribution to society.


  • Rachel Appel said


    Here's the link:

    You started off the comment with "While I wholeheartedly support the aim of getting more women into STEM fields"...

    After that statement your comment immediately began attempting to shoot down research based on distractions from the core issues throughout the majority of the comment, (Star Trek, really?).
    You then tried to discredit research by stating that both the researchers and I are sexist.

    That is not wholehearted support. It's called a red herring logical fallacy followed by a craptastic ad hominem.

    Additionally you state the the research and I are simply "making reductive attempts to portray it purely as a matter of sexist
    hostility", despite the fact that I've stated I have other posts on OTHER related topics in the works, (i.e., different, NOT reductive, but expansive) despite the fact that I made several statements to the opposite in this post.

    That's not support either. That's like you didn't even read this post or the research.

    To clarify your confusion: Extreme pressure and extreme hours are not the same. Just ask any IT pro who's restoring a backup, or the Agile coach showing the waterfall team Agile practices.

    There is no reverse-sexisism masquerading as research, articles, or news, over at the LPFI, HBR, universities, MSNBC, or by me.

    I can also assure you I've done the due diligence of investigation on my part. I'd like to ask the commenters to do the same, but not everyone will.

    You presented no published stats, numbers, or research to back your claims. Until I see published research that states differently, I'm going by the numbers I have.

  • Rachel Appel said


    Indeed, that is the case that in some geo-locales, things will be different, not so much a problem.

    I meant to make a note that yes, I was focusing on USA data in the post.

  • Dane Morgridge said

    What I don't get is how we have seem to lost the basic human decency of respect.

    I don't care if it's vulgarity, profanity, or whatnot, having respect for people you don't know is something that every person should have.

    I've been in work places where that respect was given and places where it wasn't. In many places, there were cases where the women there were worse than some of the guys when it came to crudeness. But you can't just assume.

    I'm sure there are many reasons why there aren't as many women in tech that are outside of this issue, but I wonder how much of it is due our lack of simple respect for other people.

    Just because something is not offensive to you don't mean it won't be offensive to someone else and just because you don't think it's wrong doesn't mean it's right.

    This is kindergarten golden rule stuff...

  • Jon said


    Again, that link leads to a 404. I cannot comment on research I cannot read.

  • Rachel said

    It appears I've lost all knowledge as how to enter a correct link. :-S

    Try this.

    I also posted it here.

    HBR full research avail at: http://hbr.org/product/the-athena-factor-reversing-the-brain-drain-in-sci/an/10094-PDF-ENG?Ntt=athena%2520factor

    I hope at least one of these work! :)

    It's also easily searchable on Bing with the terms "Athena factor" and "Reversing brain drain in technology fields" search terms

  • Peter Laudati said

    Hi Rachel,

    Great post! I added some of my own thoughts on the subject here:

    Let's keep it professional!

  • Ted said

    I do no agree. It seems that rather some women don't like to hire women. Generally most managers hire better professional developers not just boys or girls. Just reality is not following gender ideology even if some male-managers are bad boys without the future in business.

  • Rachel said


    I know men (can name but won't) who simply refuse to hire women. No doubt there are women who do the same, thought I've never heard any say so.

    The bottom line: Men (particularly white males) do not, simply do not, have the same issues or hardships that minorities do, because of their race/gender/etc...

    Everyone wants qualified candidates but there are far more roadblocks for women than men.

    The way reality's going isn't the right way either. Once upon a time reality viewed the world is flat. Diversity is another thing that needs to be changed in the world.

  • Greg Wilson said

    Michele Whitecraft and Wendy Williams have a chapter in "Making Software" (O'Reilly, 2010, 978-0596808327) summarizing current research on why there aren't more women in computer science.

  • Jane Copland said

    Hi Rachel,

    Thank you for this. This is all so true and, I believe, has to be said more. I work in online marketing, and recently wrote a post (one which became far more popular than I had ever imagined) about some of the treatment women in my industry have put up with, and some of the "boys' club" attitudes that foster it. I am sorry to link-drop, but I thought you might find it interesting - http://janecopland.co.uk/2011/12/women-as-entertainment-in-the-seo-industry/

    I wrote the post over a year ago, but was hesitant to post it. I had no idea if the reaction would be positive, or if I was putting myself in the line of fire for some very harsh personal criticism.

    As it turned out, the response was heartening and overwhelming. I truly believe that "saying something" is incredibly important. Thanks for being part of the group who has spoken out.



  • Julia said

    Hi Rachel,

    I like this post. But I agree with those who say that workplaces have much more impact then conferences and chats.

    One thing I would recommend to people in tech, if somebody speaks about a discrimination experience, please, LISTEN, don't argue. Arguing is not supportive at all. I believe that big companies (who have HR in place) are not prone to discriminate. Those are lucky women to work for companies caring about diversity, I wish they were hiring more. My husband's company is like that, but they have a policy not to hire spouses. My own experience is with small companies and startups, because of my skillset. This is rampant discrimination because they only hire people "like us" for Sr developer positions (white males all about the same age, mostly bachelors). Getting a job as a Junior was so much easier. I interviewed with something like 20 companies, all the same, I have skills highly in demand, but the majority doesn't even bother about giving me a valid rejection. They just "forget" me in the process, or find some excuse irrelevant to my skills, and report the job. Or even openly treat me differently. I quit my last job in a small company because the environment was abusive and the management wouldn't bother (making policies? they rolled their eyes when I mentioned).

    Attending conferences is a luxury for me if I cannot get a job. Neither would I attend them if I'm to quit the field. And the talks about "teach programming to more girls" sounds like replacing people like me (10+ years experience) by Juniors, where 52% of them will eventually quit anyway. Why nobody talks about women quitting the field because of the glass ceiling and discrimination?

  • Rachel said


    Great feedback. A lot of folks think I'm just focusing on chats & confs, but I also talk about lots of ways women are snubbed in the workplace too. Confs & chats have just been in recent tech news.

    Best of luck in your job hunting endeavors.

  • JayR said

    All really interesting comments and feedback. As a software developer here in the US and a new father of a baby girl this all has particular interest to me. I'm looking forward to teaching my daughter everything I know and will encourage her interest in STEM fields. One comment that hit home with me is I do work with many female developers at my work place with the vast majority being of non-USA ethnicity. I think a big problem in encouraging US women to enter STEM fields is how YOUNG women are portrayed in the media. For instance, how many images and news stories of a scantily clad Brittney Spears, Christina Agularia, Parris Hilton, Jessica Simpson, etc is the average young female going to see by the age of 18? When young women see these images and stories and worse the behavior these 'successful' women display it really sends a bad message. It says to young women if you want to be important someday then as a young female you must bleach your hair platinum blond, act like you've got an IQ of 4 and release a sex tape. Seriously, where are the role models for young women in America these days?

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