HBO’s Silicon Valley depicts the US tech industry as dominated by geeky men in sweatshirts. But the satire isn’t far from reality. Despite efforts to the reduce the gender gap in technology, a new study by Accenture and Girls Who Code, a non-profit dedicated to closing the gender gap in computing, predicts that women’s share of computing jobs in the US is going to narrow even more if steps aren’t immediately taken to the address the issue.
Women currently hold 24% of the jobs in computing—a level that has held steady since 2011, according to data from Girls Who Code. That percentage is likely to fall to 22% by 2025 if no new efforts are made to create and sustain young women’s interest in computing, from junior high to university, the report finds.
To reach their findings, Accenture and Girls Who Code created a model to estimate future changes in the participation of women in computing and the impact on women’s earnings. They also carried out qualitative research among girls aged 12 to 18 years old, undergraduates, young workers, parents, and teachers, to determine which factors impact decisions to study and work in computing, and surveyed an additional 8,000 people.
“You have a growing demand, a higher level of interest in boys and no intentional actions to get girls in,” says Julie Sweet, the CEO of Accenture in North America.
Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, says one of the reasons behind the current gender gap might actually be shows like Silicon Valley. “When you turn on the television, you don’t see role models for girls in America,” Saujani says. “You cannot be what you cannot see.” Saujani adds that efforts to create universal access to computers will not help reduce the gender gap unless they are specifically designed to address gender inequalities.
Not doing enough to encourage more women to work in computing hurts the US economy in general. While computing jobs are growing three times as fast as overall job creation, according to the report, computer scientists are in short supply. In 2015 there were 500,000 open computing jobs in the US, but in 2014, there were less than 40,000 new computer science graduates.
Few are women. The report finds the share of women computer science majors in the US dropped from 34% in 1984 to 18% in 2016. According to the nonprofit National Student Clearinghouse, only 18% of computer scientists graduating at an undergraduate level in 2014 were women, with the number rising to 27% at a graduate level.
The gender gap in computing doesn’t just impact women’s earnings by leaving them out of a key growing industry. Eventually, the lack of gender diversity in a workplace impacts a company’s competitiveness as it attempts to navigate new business models using technology. “Diversity is critical to innovation,” says Sweet.
The report’s authors say the gender diversity problem starts at school. They recommend sparking interest in junior high school, before interest falls in high school, and sustaining that interest through college by making sure students are in contact with role models and inspiring teachers. Saujani says the way computer science is taught also matters, because young women are more likely to be interested in taking up careers that can help bring positive change in the world. If teachers emphasize how computers can help solve problems, girls are going to be more likely to get interested in coding.
According to the report, if appropriate steps are taken now, the share of women in the computing workforce could increase to 39% by 2025, generating $299 billion in additional cumulative earnings for women.