Four key points that determine women’s path in tech

If only we knew where the “leaky parts” of the women in tech pipeline are, then we could intervene effectively and on time and make things whole -or, at least, better, right? That’s what research in recent years has been trying to do, in countries as diverse as the US, India, Finland and -wait for it!- soon Italy, Sweden, Greece and Cyprus too, through the FeminICT project.

But first, let’s take a look at what a recent report by Girls who code and Logitech, based on a survey conducted among 400 individuals working in technology and IT, and titled “What (and who) is holding women back in tech?”, has to say about 4 key points in women’s professional life cycles, that often determine whether girls and women choose a career in computer science.

In these moments, women tend to either break through barriers or get blocked by them. By understanding this mechanism, we may be able to replicate the breakthroughs widely -in schools, workplaces, and in society in general- and thus support more women to succeed in this industry.

Early mentors
According to the “What (and who) is holding women back in tech?”, cheerleaders and real-life role models for girls matter -a lot. Over half of women in the sample (60%) said a parent or a teacher in high-school encouraged them to study computer science, demonstrating the pivotal role particular adults play in supporting women at a young age. For girls this early support is essential. Authentic encouragement from parents and teachers plays a pivotal role in supporting young women who may otherwise choose another profession.

Passion and purpose
The authors of the study highlight the role that passion plays, as a key driver for women to enter the tech sector. The top reasons women say they are drawn to tech and IT include a passion for computers (35%) and an interest in how things work (33%). This commitment is even more notable when we compare the women’s answers to the men’s. While over one-third of women said a passion for computers was their reason for entering the field, only 26% of men said the same. Similarly, only 29% of men noted that an interest in how things work led them to pursue computer science. Once women get hired, a job that makes a meaningful contribution to society is usually very important to them. 92% of participants in the survey shared that the ability to make a meaningful contribution to their communities is a primary factor in their career development.

Access to women-friendly communities
Communities of support help women handle the judgement, sexism, and rejection they often must deal with before and during their tech careers. Having these experiences may be one of the reasons why nearly half of all women surveyed (44%) said they participated in computer science programs dedicated only to women during college. In the workforce, women continue to seek community, with nearly twice as many women (31%) seeking support through professional networks as compared to men.

Meaningful action from men
Men often remain blind to the isolation, aggression, and sexual harassment women face in the tech workplace. A vast majority (80%) of men believe their company creates a good environment to integrate male and female workers. Yet when men are asked directly about barriers for women, they recognize more of the challenges. But to increase gender equality in the tech industry, men must take steps toward self- awareness and transform good intentions into meaningful action.

The results of this survey show some of breakthrough moments that have encouraged women to pursue and progress in tech and IT careers. But they also reveal how far the industry still has to go. Our goal for the FeminICT project is to help show a concrete and viable path towards this direction for industry, academic institutions, accelerators and state actors alike.

In this way we can continue to expand the professional options available to women who are already in the field and provide girls with the early support they need to choose the best career path for themselves.