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More women are going into math and science but bypassing tech careers

September 10, 2013
September 10, 2013

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Despite some visible female CEOs at IBM, Hewlett Packard and Yahoo,  women are turning off computer careers even as more of them sign onto other science or technical jobs.

Women have seen an overall increase in their share of many science and engineering jobs, but their proportion of computer jobs has dropped since 1990, a new Census report shows.

Women represent almost half of all US workers, and now hold 47% of mathematical jobs and 61% of social science jobs such as psychologist and economist, but there are “significant underrepresentation” elsewhere: 27% of computer professionals and 13% of engineers. The computer field is important because it has grown to represent  almost half of all STEM occupations.

Women are especially underrepresented as computer network architects (11.1% of all those jobs) and as systems administrators (19.1%). They’re scarcer still in engineering fields, mechanical (6.3%) and geological (6.7%)

“It’s pretty pathetic,” said Dede Haskins, former president of Women in Technology, a Washington, D.C. group. “It’s such a dramatic problem” that large amounts of money and programs are “being thrown at it” to encourage girls and young women to consider computer and engineering jobs.

Though this data covers the US, the decline in women in tech field is affecting many countries, with India having the lowest participation rates of women in science and technology.

“Even in countries where the numbers of women studying science and technology have increased, it has not translated into more women in the workplace,” find researchers at the Women in Global Science & Technology (pdf). 

Why are women skipping software development jobs?

The answers are complex. “Female parity in the science, technology and innovation fields is tied to multiple empowerment factors, with the most influential being higher economic status, larger roles in government and politics, access to economic, productive and technological resources, and a supportive policy environment,” the Women in Global Science & Technology report said.  Equal pay and child care support also help.

Women also lack of female role models (or even a sponsor) and find few opportunities in their local economies, an Elance survey found.

“Young women look at computer science and feel like they don’t belong” or that the career won’t suit them, said Telle Whitney, president of the Anita Borg Institute, which seeks to increase women’s impact on technology. Though she sees a positive shift at universities and major employers that want to welcome more women,  a lot of “unconscious biases in the workplace” cause many young women to depart after just a short time.

You can follow Vickie on Twitter at @WorkingKind. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com

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