Few women are benefiting from surge in tech jobs
The technology sector is booming, but there’s been no progress in boosting women’s share of some of the state’s best-paying jobs.
Women remain vastly underrepresented in so-called core tech jobs, holding little more than a quarter of positions such as programmer and cybersecurity analyst for which computer and math skills are paramount, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council.
The trade group found the number of men in core tech jobs expanded by about 15 percent to 94,500 from 2007 to 2014. The gain for women was 12 percent to 34,000, leaving them with 26.5 percent of the total, slightly less than what they held in 2007. The analysis was conducted by the UMass Donahue Institute using the most recent US census data available.
The findings underscore a high-profile problem for the tech industry: it is harder for women than men to get into core tech jobs, to stay in the field, and to advance. Steps to change a male-dominated culture are still being put in place.
Gender diversity has been a subject of intense discussion within the industry. The sector’s biggest names recently started publicly disclosing diversity figures after pressure from activists, with giants Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google, and Apple Inc. all reporting that their workforces are about 70 percent male.
Jean Yang, an assistant computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University and an MIT alumnae, said more needs to be done to ensure that women feel comfortable actually finding careers in the field.
“It’s not just a pipeline problem,” said Yang, who previously interned at Google and Facebook. “It’s that women are actually leaving, and they’re citing things like harassment and the glass ceiling and feeling like they have to struggle all the time against stereotypes and people not giving them credit.”
One clear area of focus is getting more women to study computer science in college. MIT said Tuesday that it expects women to comprise about 40 percent of graduates from its electrical engineering and computer science department this spring. Another is tracking the problem and agitating for change. This month, a nonprofit called Project Include was launched by a group of prominent Silicon Valley women to win commitments from tech companies to measure their diversity and work to improve it.
Conditions have improved for women in technical fields even if their numbers are still low, said Mona Vernon, who heads a data science team for financial information provider Thomson Reuters.
Vernon said she has noticed that millennial workers in particular are more likely to expect equal treatment in the workplace, which Vernon said was a noticeable change from when she entered the workforce in the 2000s.
“In my first management job, a male colleague of mine said, ‘Well, men can’t work for you,’ ” Vernon recalled. “He was a smart guy, right? And he had daughters. But it just felt viscerally wrong to him.”
Some companies also have become more aggressive about increasing the number of women and minorities.
Google reported this year that the number of new mothers who left the company dropped by half after it increased paid maternal leave from 12 to 18 weeks.
Zoe Sobin, a software engineer at Cambridge marketing software company HubSpot Inc., said she thrived in computer science classes at Tufts. But she was also involved in her sorority and rowing for the university’s crew team — activities that didn’t register with tech recruiters, she said.
“I wasn’t going to hack-a-thons,” she said. “It’s a bunch of dudes in groups not showering for a few days. I didn’t have interest in that.”
Sobin led a “Women in CS” workshop last month at HubSpot, helping 50 local college students in a daylong coding session to help them experience hands-on computer science work by building their own apps.
But at smaller companies, particularly the fast-growing startups that investors and employees join in hopes of striking it rich, leaders are much less equipped to launch a major human resources campaign, said Barbara Gault, executive director of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
“In the tech field, there’s kind of a startup culture and mentality that tends to favor shaking up the old ways of doing things — not doing business as usual and not necessarily following standard HR practices that actually might help ensure diversity,” Gault said.
Jen Andre, chief executive of Cambridge cybersecurity software startup Komand, said she has advised women in tech that larger companies will likely offer more opportunities for mentorship and fewer consuming demands on their time.
“Even though I love working at startups — I love building new things, I love the fast-paced nature of it — I think it can be tough for women. It can be tough for anyone who has a family, really,” she said.
One bright spot: the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council said Massachusetts does have a higher rate of women in tech jobs than most other states.
The MassTLC analysis, using a rolling three-year average of census data, found that the number of Massachusetts women in jobs with computer or math skills increased by 3,739 between 2007 and 2014. The number of men in those job categories grew by 12,482.
Using annual data without averaging paints an even more striking picture: the number of women employed in tech jobs in the state grew by just 364 between 2007-2014. But those figures have high margins of error, prompting analysts to smooth out single-year spikes by averaging the job changes over three years.
Technology companies directly employ some 10 percent of the private-sector workforce in the state, and the sector’s annual payroll of about $37.6 billion is 19 percent of the state total, MassTLC said.
And those jobs pay very well. The average salary of a tech worker, according to MassTLC, is nearly $128,000 a year, well above the state’s median household income of $67,846.
MassTLC chief executive Tom Hopcroft said failing to bring more women and minorities into the tech workforce could hurt the state’s attempts to stay ahead in a growing national race to build local tech hotbeds.
“It’s hard to go up against states that are dramatically bigger and have larger markets. They don’t have to grow as fast to take advantage of the same opportunities,” Hopcroft said. “If we want to dominate economically and capture the next technology wave and lead that, we really need to be firing on all cylinders and have all of the talent at the table.”